Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and take a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no knowledge of engines. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient knob you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when mechanics get a look at it. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur in some cases with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically reveal what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people consider hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your ability to hear. This form of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But sometimes, this type of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can often look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in loud settings, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. 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:
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob inside of your head! This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you may experience auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This disorder can develop in both children and adults. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be damaged: If these delicate 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: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t get the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. When this takes place, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite sure why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. Still, there are close connections which may reveal that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you may have every single one of these risk factors and not develop auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
Risk factors for adults
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Various kinds of immune diseases
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Some medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
Generally, it’s a smart idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, especially if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A standard hearing test consists of listening to tones with a set of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will normally be used instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain places on your head and scalp. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. The quality of your brainwave reactions 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. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this disorder can be managed in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some moderate cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t typically the situation. As a result, hearing aids are frequently combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the problems. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. They’re rather amazing! (And you can watch many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or lowering certain frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills training. This will help you communicate with 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, prompt treatment can lead to better results.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as soon 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 crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.