Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? That really stinks! You have to pull your car off the road. Then you probably open your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Maybe you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the experts get a look at things that you get an understanding of the issue. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. There’s the usual cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
What is auditory neuropathy?
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 is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes be the cause. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be effectively carried to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in loud situations, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can often make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Obviously, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. If you’re experiencing these symptoms it may be a case of auditory neuropathy.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be entirely clear. Both adults and children can experience this condition. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a particular nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as jumbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really certain why. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. However, there are close connections which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you could have all of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical probability of developing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Here are some risk factors that will raise the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A low birth weight
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological disorders
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Liver conditions that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Various types of immune diseases
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that run in the family
Minimizing the risks as much as possible is always a smart plan. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A standard hearing exam consists of listening to tones with a set of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
Instead, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to specific spots on your scalp and head. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes place particular focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. 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 (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. A little microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are several ways to manage this disorder.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some individuals. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the case. As a result, hearing aids are usually combined with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant may be necessary. 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 reducing certain frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. This strategy frequently utilizes devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments could be combined with communication skills exercises. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can lead to better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.