Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? That really stinks! You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably open your hood and have a look at your engine.
What’s funny is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the mechanics get a look at things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can occur. The cause is not always obvious by the symptoms. There’s the usual culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most people think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But sometimes, this sort of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes be the cause. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear receive sounds just 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 a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud settings. This can often make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and manage.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are pretty solid 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.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t understand them. This can apply to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
- The inability to distinguish words: 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.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. If you’re encountering these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. Both children and adults can develop this disorder. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these fragile 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 full form.
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is quite sure why some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might show that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
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.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological disorders
- Preterm or premature birth
- 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 lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- Immune disorders of various types
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
Minimizing the risks as much as you can is always a smart plan. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing examination, you’ll most likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
Instead, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain spots on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes put specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us determine whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of clicks and tones will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it responds. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the applicable tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
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. In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this condition can be managed in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe 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 isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. As a result, hearing aids are usually combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids will not be able to solve the issues. In these situations, a cochlear implant could be required. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering certain frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what happens. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments might 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 you can
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can produce better results.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make 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.