Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the road? It’s not an enjoyable situation. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and have a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no knowledge of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Eventually, you have to call someone to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the problem only becomes obvious when experts diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause isn’t always apparent by the symptoms. There’s the usual culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something other than noise damage. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be effectively transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to conventional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in noisy settings, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make identifying 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 served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- An inability to make out words: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, 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 rise and fall like somebody is playing with the volume knob. If you’re experiencing these symptoms it may be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t 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 pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy may not be entirely clear. This disorder can develop in both children and adults. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be damaged: If these delicate hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a specific way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
- Nerve damage: The hearing center of your brain gets sound from a specific nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem confused if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to discern.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. That’s why there’s no exact science to preventing it. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you show specific close connections.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Liver disorders 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
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Immune diseases of various kinds
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
Generally, it’s a smart plan to minimize these risks as much as you can. If risk factors are there, it may be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A standard hearing test consists of listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
One of the following two tests will usually be used instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will reveal it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to specific places on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes place particular 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.
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, just like you bring your car to the auto technician to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be treated in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some people. Having said that, this isn’t generally the case, because, again, volume is virtually never the problem. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most people. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. 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 certain 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 combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
Getting your disorder treated promptly will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you make 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, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.