Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Definition & Causes

Instructor: Amy Lipsett

Amy is a Registered Nurse, licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Amy has over 20 years experience in medical-surgical, trauma, and orthopedic nursing. Amy is currently a nurse educator and works in professional development. Amy has a bachelor degree in nursing and a masters degree in healthcare administration.

Have you ever wondered why some people lose their hearing? In this lesson, you will review the definition of sensorineural hearing loss, including the causes of this condition.

What Did You Just Say?

You're a registered nurse (RN) who works in a family practice clinic. Today you meet Mr. Jones, who has come to the clinic to see the doctor because he feels like his hearing has become muffled. He reports having a difficult time hearing people when they talk to him, and even if they speak loudly their voices still sound unclear. It sounds to him as if people are mumbling even when he knows they are not. Mr. Jones also reports that he has significant difficulty communicating on the phone.

After evaluating Mr. Jones, Dr. Smith explains to him that he may have sensorineural hearing loss and will require further testing by a specialist. Dr. Smith briefly explains what this condition is, but Mr. Jones looks perplexed. Dr. Smith then asks you to spend some time with Mr. Jones to explain to him what exactly sensorineural hearing loss is, including what causes this condition. You will also help him schedule his follow up appointment with a specialist.


Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. This damage can involve either the cochlea or hearing nerve pathways, or it can encompass both aspects of the inner ear. The cochlea is the spiral cavity of the inner ear that contains the organ of Corti, which functions to produce nerve impulses in response to sound vibrations. Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea or to the nerve pathways, which lead from the inner ear to the brain, can cause sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss accounts for approximately ninety percent of hearing loss. Typically, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. In cases of profound and complete hearing loss, a surgically implanted special hearing aid called a cochlear implant may be used by the doctor to try and help the patient. But sadly, there is no scientifically proven cure for this condition. Doctors attempt to manage patients' hearing loss by implementing hearing strategies and by prescribing hearing aids.


Sensorineural hearing loss can occur for many reasons, some of which include:

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