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. 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 you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the professionals get a look at things that you get a picture of the issue. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can occur. The cause isn’t always obvious by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual culprit. But in some cases, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most people think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This form of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. While it’s less common, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing disorder where your ear and inner ear receive sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear well in loud settings, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be fairly sure that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is messing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can apply to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might experience auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This condition can develop in both children and adults. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing portion of your brain gets sound from a specific 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 happens.
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these little hairs inside of your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close associations.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you may have every single one of these risk factors and 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 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)
- Other neurological conditions
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Certain medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Various kinds of immune diseases
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that run in the family
Limiting the risks as much as you can is generally a smart plan. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely minimal use.
One of the following two tests will typically be used instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain spots on your head and scalp. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us identify whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (such as auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be tested with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of clicks and tones will be played. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
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, 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 there are a few ways to treat this disorder.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient solution for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t typically the case. As a result, hearing aids are usually coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to solve the problems. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these cases. Signals from your inner ear are transmitted directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering certain frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, 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 promptly will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as possible. The sooner you make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.