Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you likely open your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no knowledge of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, you have to call someone to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when experts diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically indicate what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical culprit. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most people think of extremely loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This form of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something else besides noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing disorder where your ear and inner ear receive sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear well in noisy situations, you keep turning the volume up on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make spotting it easier. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the spoken word and apply to all types of sounds around you.
- The inability to make out words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is playing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific condition. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on a personal level. Both children and adults can experience this disorder. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t receive the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really sure why. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. Nevertheless, there are close associations which may indicate that you’re at a higher risk of developing this condition.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you may have every single one of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological conditions
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- Immune disorders of various kinds
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a good idea. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a normal hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
Rather, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to specific spots on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be treated in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some moderate cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some people. But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t typically the situation. Hearing aids are often used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most individuals. In these cases, a cochlear implant may be required. Signals from your inner ear are transmitted directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or lowering specific frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. This strategy frequently utilizes devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills training. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your disorder treated promptly will, as with any hearing condition, produce better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just normal hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as soon as you can. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.