Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the road? It’s not an enjoyable situation. You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably open your hood and take a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when experts diagnose it. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen in some cases with hearing loss. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical culprit. But in some cases, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people consider hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your hearing. This kind of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes be the cause. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be correctly sent to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.
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 well in loud environments. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Though, as always, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like somebody is playing with the volume knob. If you’re dealing with these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t 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 go beyond the speech and apply to all kinds of sounds around you.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. When this takes place, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a particular way.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really certain why. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to combating it. But you may be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close connections.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this disorder.
Children’s risk factors
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Liver conditions that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological disorders
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Various kinds of immune diseases
- Some medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
In general, it’s a smart idea to limit these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good plan, especially if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a normal hearing examination, 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 very much with auditory neuropathy.
Instead, we will usually recommend one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A little microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to specific places on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes place particular emphasis 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 established by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we do the applicable tests.
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! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be managed in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some people, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the case. As a result, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the problems. In these cases, a cochlear implant could be necessary. 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 amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or reducing specific frequencies. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your disorder treated right away will, as with any hearing disorder, lead to better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as soon as possible. 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 great deal of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.