Sensorineural hearing loss or "nerve deafness" is one of the most common afflictions of the ear causing hearing loss. "Nerve deafness" is a bit of a misonomer since freqently we are unable to tell whether the hearing loss is due to nerve disorder or sensory cell disorder.
Symptoms of hearing loss: turning the TV on "too loud" for others, poor speech clarity or the perception of "mumbling" by others, need to ask people to repeat words, misunderstanding, and poor hearing performance in noisy backgrounds. These problems arises from the type of hearing loss present. Typically these patients hears worst in the high frequency (treble ) end of hearing while the low frequency hearing is normal or nearly so. In english the vowels (A,E,I,O,U) are low frequency sounds while the consonants, the main information, are high frequecy sounds. Thus in normal conversation a person with a standard nerve hearing loss will only get part of each word missing the consonants which contain the information. Thus, to the affected person normal speech sounds muffled or like the speaker is "mumbling." There is also a problem with loudness of sounds such that the range of comfortable listening from just barely hearing to painfully loud is contracted. Thus, merely yelling at the patient may not help much at all because the sound quickly becomes to loud producing pain. There is also frequently a problem with the portion of the brain (and/or ear) which translates the sounds heard into language, the discrimination. The hearing level and discrimination as well as other aspects of hearing are testing when you have a hearing test before visiting with Dr. Ator.
The damage in 'nerve deafness' is actually either in the nerve leading to the brain itself or the cells deep within the inner ear which translate sound into nerve discharges which the brain works with. In most cases Dr. Ator is not able to tell which element is damaged and this is why we use the term sensorineural hearing loss.
This condition comes about from damage to the inner ear from a variety of factors but most commonly from the aging process or loud noise damage. Typically the changes are permanent and there may at times be progression of the loss with gradual stabilization in many cases.
"Nerve deafness" is treated with hearing aids if it is causing problems with social interactions. There is no specific picture on the hearing test which means the patient must have a hearing aid, but the effect of the hearing loss on the patients interactions with others which determines the need for hearing aids. The type of interactions will influence the aid(s) required. This will vary for the public speaker versus a person who mainly interacts in small groups. Whatever type of hearing aid is selected, it is designed specifically for the type and degree of hearing loss present much like a pair of spectacles. The fitting is done by an audiologist, a professional with graduate school training and specific school work dealing with hearing aids. They are licensed by the State of Kansas and certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association.
Gregory A. Ator, M.D., FACS
Neurotology, Otology, and Skull Base Surgery
Disorders of Hearing, Balance, and the Facial Nerve
Contents ©Gregory A. Ator, M.D. 1996