Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable experience. You have to pull your car off the road. Then you most 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 understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And a picture of the problem only becomes evident when mechanics diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complex and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can happen. The cause isn’t always apparent by the symptoms. There’s the normal cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This form of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something other than noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing disorder where your ear and inner ear receive sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transfer 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 well in noisy settings, 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.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Obviously, nothing can replace getting an accurate diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob inside of your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t make sense of them. This can pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by the symptoms. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both adults and children can develop this disorder. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t receive the complete signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. When this takes place, you may interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
- 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 detects can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite sure why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close connections which may reveal that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
Keep 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 shown, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
- 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
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
- Specific infectious diseases, like mumps
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Immune disorders of various types
In general, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a normal hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very minimal use.
Instead, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of tones and clicks. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will reveal it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain places on your scalp and head with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes place specific emphasis on measuring how your brainwaves respond to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we do the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the auto technician to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are a few ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the problems. In these cases, a cochlear implant might be required. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by boosting 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 training can be combined 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 results.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely crucial for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.