Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the road? It’s not a fun experience. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you most likely pop your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no understanding of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when experts get a look at it. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can occur. The cause isn’t always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most people consider hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your hearing. This type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something else besides noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes be the cause. This is a hearing condition where your ear and inner ear receive sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transfer those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking the volume up on your devices and not being capable of hearing very well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest like this, you can be pretty certain that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed 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 might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this particular disorder. It might not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem off. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these tiny hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a particular way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite sure why. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you may be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close connections.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you may have all of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop 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:
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
- 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
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Some medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Immune diseases of various kinds
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
Generally, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A typical hearing test consists of listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on which side you hear the tone on. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very minimal use.
Instead, we will typically suggest one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to certain places on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. Whether you’re dealing with 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 made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the issue.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we do the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this condition can be treated in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some people, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t typically the situation. Due to this, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant may be needed. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has lots of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering specific frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined 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 disorder, timely treatment can lead to better results.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old 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 once you schedule an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.