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?
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no knowledge of engines. Maybe you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the professionals check out things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people consider hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This form of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition where 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 traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in loud situations, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest like this, you can be pretty sure that it’s not normal noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is playing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re encountering these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what somebody is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound garbled or distorted.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. It might not be completely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both children and adults can experience this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem confused if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite certain why. Because of this, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of developing this disorder.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical likelihood of developing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological disorders
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Various types of immune diseases
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that run in the family
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a smart plan. If risk factors are there, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a standard hearing examination, you’ll most 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.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- 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 battery of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will reveal it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to specific spots on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us determine whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we do the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the auto technician to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to manage this disorder.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to allow you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some individuals. But because volume usually isn’t the problem, 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 transmitted directly to your brain with this implant. They’re rather amazing! (And you can watch many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or reduction of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. This approach often makes use of devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
Getting your disorder treated punctually 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 possible. The sooner you schedule 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 great deal of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.