Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable situation. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you likely open your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no knowledge of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.
And it’s only when the experts check out things that you get an understanding of the problem. That’s because cars are complicated, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t start) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common culprit. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most people think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something else besides noise damage. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. 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.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in noisy situations, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make diagnosing it easier. 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 informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Trouble understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what somebody is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all types of sounds around you.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob in your head! This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. It might not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both children and adults can develop this disorder. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: If these fragile hairs in your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really sure why. Because of this, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close associations which may show that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and still 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 a few risk factors that will raise 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 low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Other neurological disorders
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
Adult risk factors
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Various types of immune diseases
- Specific infectious diseases, like mumps
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
Minimizing the risks as much as you can is always a smart plan. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A normal 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.
Instead, we will usually suggest one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to certain places on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us identify whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction 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 an array of tones and clicks. 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 run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this disorder can be managed in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. For some people, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume usually isn’t the problem, this isn’t typically the situation. Due to this, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most people. In these cases, a cochlear implant could 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 remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, 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 condition treated right away will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you schedule 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.