Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? That really stinks! You have to pull your car off the road. Then you most 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 understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when mechanics diagnose it. That’s because cars are complex, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t move) are not enough to tell you what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically indicate what the underlying cause is. There’s the common culprit (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most individuals think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can sometimes be the cause. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be effectively sent to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound just fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in noisy situations, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are pretty strong indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can apply to all kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob inside of your head! This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are unclear and unclear.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular condition. On an individual level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. Both children and adults can develop this disorder. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Nerve damage: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t get the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. Sounds might seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a particular way.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really certain why some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there’s no exact science to preventing it. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show certain close connections.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not develop 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 increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver conditions that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Various types of immune diseases
Generally, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are there, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A typical hearing test involves listening to tones with a set of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
Instead, we will usually suggest one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain spots on your scalp and head with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us identify whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be tested with this diagnostic. A little microphone is put 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. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will reveal it.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the auto technician to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to treat this disorder.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some people, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the situation. As a result, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most individuals. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s precisely what happens. This approach frequently uses devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments could be combined with communication skills exercises. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your condition treated right away will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as you can. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you schedule an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.