Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable situation. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and have 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 handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the problem only becomes obvious when mechanics diagnose it. That’s because cars are intricate, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t move) are not enough to tell you what’s wrong.
The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical culprit. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of extremely loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But sometimes, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can sometimes 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 convey 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. Things like cranking up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique features that make it possible to identify. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be pretty certain that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what someone is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob inside of your head! If you’re dealing with these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this specific condition. On an individual level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain doesn’t receive the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound off. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really sure why some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. However, there are close connections which might show that you’re at a higher risk of developing this condition.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological disorders
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Various types of immune diseases
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a good idea. If risk factors are present, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A standard 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. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will usually be used instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to specific places on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we do the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are several ways to treat this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient solution for some people. Having said that, this isn’t usually the case, because, again, volume is virtually never the problem. Due to this, hearing aids are frequently coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most people. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. Signals from your inner ear are transmitted 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, amplification or diminution of specific frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s precisely what happens. This strategy often utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments may be combined with communication skills training. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
Getting your condition treated punctually will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as quickly 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 extremely critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.