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In April of 2018, musician Huey Lewis announced he was canceling all remaining tour dates indefinitely. The reason? Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes hearing loss, among other symptoms.

The type of hearing loss caused by Meniere’s disease is known as sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). While the results may be similar to other types of hearing loss (e.g., you can’t hear as well) the treatments will be different due to different aspects of the ear being affected.

The Journey of Sound

Before diving into the different types of hearing loss, it’s important to map out sound’s journey from the outside world to your brain. Understanding the hearing process will help determine where that process is going wrong:

  1. Sound enters your ear canal and gets funneled down to the eardrum
  2. The eardrum vibrates and those vibrations get passed along the bones of the middle ear (ossicles) and to the cochlea, located in the inner ear
  3. The cochlea converts the vibrations into electrical impulses
  4. The auditory nerve picks up the impulses and transmits them to the brain
  5. The brain processes the impulses

A problem with any of those steps can translate to a partial or total loss of hearing. Where the problem happens will determine the type of hearing loss experienced.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type, with some estimates putting it at 90 percent of all cases of hearing loss. SNHL stems inner-ear problems with either the nerve endings in the cochlea that convert vibrations to electrical impulses or the auditory nerve itself.

People with SNHL often report being able to hear, but the sound is hard to discern. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • Some sounds may seem too loud

There are a number of possible causes of SNHL. Congenital SNHL—present at birth—may be due to genetic factors or an infection passed from the mother to the fetus. SNHL developed by children or adults could be due to:

  • Age
  • Blood vessel issues
  • Blow to the head
  • Frequent or sustained exposure to loud noises
  • Infections such as meningitis, measles, mumps or scarlet fever
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Ototoxic medications such as aspirin, certain antibiotics or quinine
  • Tinnitus
  • Tumors
  • Vertigo

SNHL can be present in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). Sudden SNHL that occurs over a period of hours or a few days could be indicative of a serious medical condition, so seek medical attention right away.

While there is no cure for SNHL, there are a number of treatment options for managing it, including  hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss (CHL) stems from problems of the outer or middle ear—the ear canal, eardrum or ossicles, usually. The passage (conduction) of sound waves is blocked somewhere before the cochlea.

Causes of CHL are often temporary and can include:

  • Damage to the eardrum or ossicles
  • Earwax
  • Fluid or water buildup in the outer or middle ear
  • Narrowing of the ear canal

People with CHL often notice that their own voice sounds different. Other symptoms include:

  • Ability to hear better from one ear than the other
  • Difficulty hearing speech
  • Odor from the ear (often indicating infection)
  • Pain or pressure in one or both ears

CHL is often curable and treatable. Earwax can be cleaned out, infections can be treated with medication and surgery can repair the eardrum or ossicles.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss has elements of both SNHL and CHL. It can occur when exposed to causes of both types of hearing loss, either at the same time or in quick succession. For example, you may have wax buildup causing CHL but also work around loud noises and have developed SNHL.

Come to the Hearing Specialists

At Sonora Hearing Care, our experts are the leaders in the treatment, diagnosis and continued care of hearing difficulties. From evaluation to implant testing and mapping, we are committed to providing the best care possible in a warm, inviting environment.

To schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact us today.