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 probably pop your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Maybe whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when mechanics diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical cause. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most people think of extremely loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be properly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with conventional hearing loss. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud settings. This can often make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but 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 sound 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 pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
- The inability to make out words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like somebody is playing with the volume knob. This could be an indication that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific disorder. On an individual level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy may not be completely clear. Both children and adults can experience this condition. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing portion of your brain gets sound from a particular nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain doesn’t get the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. When this happens, you might interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really certain why. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to prevent auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close associations.
It should be noted that these risk factors are not guarantees, you might have every single one of these risk factors and not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of developing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
Risk factors for adults
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Various types of immune disorders
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
Limiting the risks as much as possible is generally a smart plan. If risk factors are there, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A normal hearing exam involves listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on which side you hear the tone on. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
One of the following two tests will typically be used instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will reveal it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain places on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t worry. 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 problems reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
Once we run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully 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 this condition can be treated in a few possible ways.
- 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 a sufficient option for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t normally the case. Due to this, hearing aids are often combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to get around the problems. In these situations, a cochlear implant could be required. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of people having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of specific frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly what happens. This strategy frequently utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
As with any hearing condition, timely treatment can produce better results.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! This can be especially critical for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.