Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you most likely open 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 you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when mechanics get a look at it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically reveal what the underlying cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual cause. But in some cases, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
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 is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing disorder in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
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 turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make determining it easier. These presentations are pretty strong indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is messing with the volume knob in your head! This could be an indication that you’re experiencing 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 problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and apply to all kinds of sounds around you.
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are unclear and unclear.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific condition. It may not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a particular way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite sure why some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might show that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this condition.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological conditions
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Some medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
- Immune diseases of various kinds
Generally, it’s a good plan to limit these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are there, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A typical hearing exam involves listening to tones with a set of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very minimal use.
Instead, we will usually suggest one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it responds. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to specific places on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. The quality of your brainwave responses 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).
Once we run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the auto technician to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this condition can be treated in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! Having said that, this isn’t generally the case, because, once again, volume is virtually never the issue. As a result, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to solve the problems. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has plenty of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or diminution of specific frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what occurs with a technology called frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can produce better results.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just normal hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as you can. You’ll be able to go 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.