Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? It’s not an enjoyable situation. You have to pull your car off the road. Then you most likely open your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no understanding of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes evident when mechanics diagnose it. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always obvious by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual culprit. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of extremely loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This form of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the idea.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing disorder in which 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 conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear well in loud settings, you keep turning 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 distinctive symptoms that make diagnosing it easier. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, as always, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like someone is messing with the volume knob in your head! This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are confused and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, 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.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the root causes behind this particular condition. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. When this takes place, you might interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to discern.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in full form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. Because of this, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you may be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present 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 experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Here are some risk factors that will raise the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Other neurological conditions
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Various types of immune diseases
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
Generally, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a typical hearing assessment, you’ll likely be given a set of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will normally be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series of clicks and tones will be played. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to specific places on your scalp and head. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes put specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we do the applicable tests.
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 several ways to treat this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some people, hearing aids will work just fine! Having said that, this isn’t typically the case, because, again, volume is almost never the problem. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problems. In these instances, a cochlear implant might be required. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this strategy.
- 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 receive treatment, the better
As with any hearing condition, timely treatment can result in better results.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s important 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 lot of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.