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 to the side of the road. Then you most likely pop your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Eventually, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when experts get a look at it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily indicate what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical cause. But in some cases, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most people think of extremely loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This form of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the point.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something else besides noise damage. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for some reason, be effectively carried to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear well in loud situations, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some specific symptoms that make spotting it easier. When hearing loss symptoms present in this way, you can be fairly sure that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is messing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re dealing with these symptoms it may be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this particular condition. On an individual level, the reasons why you may experience auditory neuropathy may not be completely clear. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete 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. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will sound off. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really sure why. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. Nevertheless, there are close associations which may indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this condition.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver conditions that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Other neurological disorders
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Various types of immune diseases
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
In general, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A standard hearing test 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 typically be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it responds. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to certain spots on your scalp and head with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes put particular emphasis on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. 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).
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the appropriate tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you take your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are a few ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some people. But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t usually the situation. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant may be necessary. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this approach.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments may be combined with communication skills training. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
Getting your disorder treated promptly will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. This can be especially critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.