Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? It’s not a fun experience. You have to pull your car 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 despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the mechanics check out things that you get an understanding of the problem. Just because the car is not moving, 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 symptom itself doesn’t necessarily reveal what the underlying cause is. There’s the normal cause (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most people think about hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This type of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the idea.
But in some cases, this sort of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. 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 just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in noisy settings, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
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 sure that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds 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.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular disorder. It might not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on a personal level. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these fragile 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 full form.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing portion of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is really sure why some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others may not. Because of this, there isn’t a definitive 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 still not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical likelihood of developing this condition.
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)
- Other neurological disorders
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Some medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Immune disorders of various kinds
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
Generally, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are there, it might be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A normal hearing exam 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’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely limited use.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. A tiny 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 responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to specific places on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes put specific emphasis on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you take your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this disorder can be treated in a few possible ways.
- 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. Hearing aids will be a sufficient solution for some individuals. But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t normally the case. Hearing aids are often used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the problems. In these cases, a cochlear implant might be required. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. This strategy often makes use of devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be put together with any combination of these treatments if needed. 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 you can
Getting your condition treated right away will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as you can. The sooner you schedule an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your everyday life! Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.