Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you probably open your hood and take 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. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when mechanics diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically indicate 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.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less common, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that distinct from those symptoms linked to conventional hearing loss. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to identify. When hearing loss symptoms present in this way, you can be pretty sure that it’s not typical 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:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob inside of your head! This could be an indication that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the root causes behind this specific disorder. On an individual level, the reasons why you may experience auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t get the complete signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem off. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these tiny hairs inside of your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is really sure why some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. Because of this, there isn’t a tried and true way to prevent auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close associations which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this condition.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver conditions that result in jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Other neurological conditions
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Preterm or premature birth
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Immune disorders of various types
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
Generally, it’s a good plan to minimize these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a standard hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a set of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will typically be used instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain spots on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes put specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established 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 little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
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 have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. 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 allow you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some individuals. But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. Due to this, hearing aids are often combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the problems. It may be necessary to go with cochlear implants in these situations. Signals from your inner ear are conveyed directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what happens. This strategy frequently uses devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments could be combined with communication skills training. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your disorder treated right away will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as soon as you can. The sooner you make 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.