Sensorineural Hearing Loss

3 million children under the age of 18 have some hearing loss, including 4 out of every 1,000 newborn infants.

There are 4 types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive
  2. Sensorineural
  3. Mixed hearing loss
  4. Auditory neuropathy/dysynchrony

Sensorineural hearing loss is usually a result of a problem with the cochlea (inner ear). Most of the time, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss reduces the ability to hear faint sounds. Even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still be unclear or sound muffled due to changes in the cochlea.

Sometimes a sensioneural hearing loss occurs in combination with a conductive hearing loss.

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Audiology and Ear Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology) and Speech Language and Learning.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes include:

  • Meningitis
  • Drugs that are toxic (harmful) to hearing
  • Hearing loss that runs in the family (genetic or hereditary)
  • Aging
  • Head trauma
  • Malformation of the inner ear
  • Exposure to loud noise

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms may consist of:

  • Speech and language delay
  • Poor attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Behavioral problem

Diagnosis & Tests

The doctor will use an instrument (otoscope) with a light attached to look into the ear canal. You will probably be referred to an audiologist, a professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating hearing problems. The audiologist will conduct tests to determine the type and degree of your child's hearing problem.

These tests may include:

  • Tympanometry and acoustic reflex testing: evaluates how the middle part of the ear is working and the possible location in the ear of what is causing the problem.
  • Otoacoustic emissions: measures a response produced by the inner ear (cochlea) and the strength of that response.
  • Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR): measures how the nerve that controls hearing responds to sound.
  • Pure tone air and bone conduction testing: notes the softest tones your child can hear at different frequencies or pitches.

Treatment & Care

Treatment may consist of:

  • Hearing aids
  • An FM system (a type of wireless system) along with hearing aids to hear better in noisy places
  • Cochlear Implants for some children with profound hearing loss
  • Speech and language therapy

Living & Managing

Children with sensorineural hearing loss will typically need ongoing support, depending on the severity of the hearing loss. 

Typical support includes:

  • Tutoring in certain subjects in school depending on your child's ability
  • American Sign Language, if unable to develop adequate spoken language

You can help your child develop better speech and listening skills.

For example:

  • Repeat words and expand your child's vocabulary by introducing new words ("terrific" instead of "wonderful")
  • Play listening games ("I hear the telephone ringing" or "Is that the front doorbell ringing?")

Your child faces additional educational risk due to listening challenges.

Ways you can help your child at home and at school in discussion with the teacher:

  • Learn about typical language development so you will be able to more easily notice if your child seems to be behind.
  • Get your child's attention before you talk.
  • Talk to your child on the side of the normal hearing ear.
  • Make eye contact when talking.
  • Be aware of your child's listening environment. For example, when talking, turn down the television.