Objective To determine the prevalence of cochlear nerve anomalies on magnetic resonance imaging in patients with unilateral or bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Methods A retrospective case series was conducted at a tertiary referral centre. The inclusion criteria were paediatric patients with bilateral or unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, investigated with magnetic resonance imaging. The primary outcome measure was the rate of cochlear nerve hypoplasia or aplasia. Results Of the 72 patients with unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, 39 per cent (28 cases) had absent or hypoplastic cochlear nerves on the affected side. Fifteen per cent (11 cases) had other abnormal findings on magnetic resonance imaging. Eighty-four patients had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, of which cochlear nerve hypoplasia or aplasia was identified only in 5 per cent (four cases). Other abnormal findings were identified in 14 per cent (12 cases). Conclusion Paediatric patients with unilateral sensorineural hearing loss are more likely to have cochlear nerve anomalies than those patients with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. This has important implications regarding cochlear implantation for patients with single-sided deafness.