Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? It’s not an enjoyable situation. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you most likely pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s strange is that you do this even though you have no idea how engines work. Maybe you think there’ll be a handy knob you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the mechanics get a look at things that you get a picture of the issue. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most individuals think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But sometimes, this sort of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear receive sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
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 settings, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Obviously, nothing can replace getting an accurate diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the spoken word and apply to all types of sounds around you.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is messing with the volume knob. If you’re dealing with these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular condition. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. Both adults and children can experience this condition. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing portion of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain doesn’t get the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound off. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is quite sure why. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present specific close connections.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
Adult risk factors
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that run in the family
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- Various kinds of immune diseases
Minimizing the risks as much as you can is always a smart plan. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a typical hearing test, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
Instead, we will usually suggest one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to specific places on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes place specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us determine whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (such as auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will reveal it.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you take your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to treat this condition.
- Hearing aids: In some moderate cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some individuals. But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t usually the case. Due to this, hearing aids are often combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problems. In these instances, a cochlear implant could be required. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. They’re rather amazing! (And you can find many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of specific frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s precisely what happens. This approach often utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
Getting your condition treated punctually will, as with any hearing disorder, lead to better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be especially critical for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.