Sensorineural hearing loss or deafness tends to be permanent because it involves damage to nerves or to the inner ear. The only method of treatment is a hearing aid worn in the ear, a device that amplifies the volume of sound electronically. Hearing aids are usually some variation of an in-the-ear or behind-the-ear device. Many are programmable to make them more effective for use in a variety of situations, such as noisy environments or talking on the phone.

A bone-conducting hearing aid may be used if someone was born without an ear canal (the opening leading to the inner ear). The aid conducts sound through the skull to the inner ear, and can be implanted surgically in the bone behind the ear.

Conductive hearing loss and deafness may at times be treatable by removing the cause of the blockage, for example, wax in the ear canal or fluid in the middle ear. Problems with the hearing bones (called otosclerosis) can be treated with surgery.

If a person can't hear sounds even with a hearing aid, they may benefit from a cochlear implant. Very thin wires are implanted in the inner ear. They connect the auditory nerve with a device that converts sound into electrical impulses. These stimulate the auditory nerve, which then sends the impulses to the brain. Many people with modern, multi-channel cochlear implants are able to understand speech without lip reading, including speech over the telephone. Other tools to help the profoundly deaf include light alerting systems (e.g., they flash if a doorbell is ringing) and telephone communication devices.

In order to communicate, many deaf people lip-read or use sign language. Deaf infants and older children need special language training that should begin as soon as deafness is identified. This involves the teaching of sign language and lip reading, as well as speech therapy.

Hearing problems can be prevented by reducing exposure to noise. Hearing protection should be used when using machinery or when exposed to loud noises of any sort. People should not listen to excessively loud music on headphones. It is important that children get all their vaccinations to lower the risk of infectious diseases that may lead to permanent hearing loss or deafness. Avoiding certain medications can prevent drug-induced ear damage. If complete avoidance is not possible, monitoring levels of these medications in the blood allows health professionals to keep them at safe levels in the body.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team