Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and take a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.
And it’s only when the mechanics check out things that you get an understanding of the problem. That’s because cars are intricate, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t move) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The cause isn’t always obvious by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual culprit. But sometimes, 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 kind of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point.
But in some cases, this sort of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less common, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing disorder where your ear and inner ear collect sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glance, not all that distinct from those symptoms associated with conventional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in loud settings, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make spotting it easier. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- 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 issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the spoken word and apply to all types of sounds around you.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is playing with the volume knob. If you’re experiencing these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Difficulty understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are confused and unclear.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular disorder. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a particular way.
- Nerve damage: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a particular nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will seem confused if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is quite sure why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. 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.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you may have all of these risk factors and not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of developing this condition.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological disorders
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Liver conditions that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
Adult risk factors
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Various kinds of immune diseases
Generally, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as you can. If risk factors are there, it may be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a standard hearing examination, you’ll most likely be given a pair 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: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain 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 focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be tested with this diagnostic. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will reveal it.
Once we do 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 in the same way that you take your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are a few ways to treat this condition.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the case. Due to this, hearing aids are frequently coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most people. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports 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: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
As with any hearing disorder, timely treatment can produce better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away 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 lot of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.