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. Then you probably pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the experts check out things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically reveal what the underlying cause is. There’s the usual cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals consider hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, 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 associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with traditional hearing loss. You can’t hear very well in noisy situations, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to diagnose. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Obviously, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- The inability to make out words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are confused and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is playing with the volume knob in your head! This could be an indication that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. It may not be very 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 described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little fragile hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem confused if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as jumbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite certain why some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others may not. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you show specific close connections.
It should be noted that these risk factors are not guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Here are some risk factors that will raise the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- A low birth weight
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
- Preterm or premature birth
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Immune diseases of various types
- Certain medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
In general, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are present, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a normal hearing assessment, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
Rather, we will generally recommend one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it reacts. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain places on your scalp and head with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes put specific focus on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the auto technician to get 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: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! Having said that, this is not typically the case, because, once again, volume is almost never the issue. Hearing aids are usually used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. In these cases, a cochlear implant could be needed. 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 amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or lowering certain frequencies. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly 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 could be combined with communication skills exercises. 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 punctually will, as with any hearing condition, produce better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.