Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably pop your hood and have a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Eventually, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the issue only becomes evident 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 inform you as to what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can happen. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically indicate what the underlying cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common cause. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of extremely loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than simple noise damage.
But sometimes, this type of long-term, noise related 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. When sound can’t, for some reason, be properly sent to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking the volume up on your devices and not being capable of hearing very well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
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 sure that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- The inability to distinguish words: In some cases, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like somebody is playing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you may experience auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. Both children and adults can experience this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be compromised: If these tiny hairs in your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
- 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 becomes damaged, your brain can’t receive the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem off. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite sure why some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to combating it. But you may be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show particular close associations.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Here are some risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Liver conditions that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- Various kinds of immune disorders
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Certain medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
Generally, it’s a good plan to limit these risks as much as you can. If risk factors are present, it might be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a standard hearing test, 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.
Rather, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain spots on your head and scalp. 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. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us identify whether your hearing problems reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (such as auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
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 you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be managed in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate option for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t typically the case. Hearing aids are often used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. They’re pretty amazing! (And you can find all kinds of YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or reducing specific frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what happens. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
Getting your condition treated promptly 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 ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you schedule an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your everyday life! Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.