Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? It’s not a fun situation. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you probably pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the experts check out things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily indicate what the cause is. There’s the normal culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like 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 type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than basic noise damage.
But sometimes, this kind of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less common, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for some reason, be effectively sent to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound just fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glance, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. Things like turning the volume up on your devices and not being able to hear well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make recognizing it easier. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Of course, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob in your head! This could be an indication that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem 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 apply to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific disorder. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both children and adults can develop this condition. 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 tries to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this happens, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
- 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 passed on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite sure why. Because of this, there isn’t a tried and true way to prevent auditory neuropathy. However, there are close connections which may reveal that you’re at a higher risk of developing this disorder.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Other neurological disorders
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Immune diseases of various kinds
- Some medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
Minimizing the risks as much as possible is generally a good idea. If risk factors are there, it might be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a typical hearing test, you’ll most 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 reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to certain places on your head and scalp with this test. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. Whether you’re experiencing 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 successful once we do the appropriate tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be managed in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some people. Having said that, this isn’t generally the case, because, once again, volume is almost 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 problem for most individuals. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing certain frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s precisely what occurs. This approach frequently utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can
Getting your condition treated right away will, as with any hearing disorder, lead to better outcomes.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as soon 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! This can be extremely crucial for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.