Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? That really stinks! You have to pull your car off the road. And then, for some reason, you probably pop your hood and take a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no idea how engines work. Maybe you think there’ll be a convenient knob you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.
And it’s only when the mechanics get a look at things that you get an understanding of the issue. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur in some cases with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily reveal what the cause is. There’s the usual cause (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of really 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 a bit more complex than that, but you get the point.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. While it’s less common, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for some reason, be properly sent to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glance, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to conventional hearing loss. Things like cranking the volume up on your devices and not being capable of hearing very well in loud settings. This can often make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make recognizing it easier. When hearing loss symptoms manifest like this, you can be pretty sure that it’s not normal noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of 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 kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like somebody is playing with the volume knob. If you’re dealing with these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound mumbled or distorted.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy may not be totally clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in full form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t get the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem off. When this takes place, you may interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. Because of this, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present certain close associations.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may 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
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological disorders
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Various kinds of immune diseases
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
Minimizing the risks as much as possible is generally a smart plan. If risk factors are there, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A normal hearing test involves listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on which side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
Rather, we will generally recommend one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A little microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of 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 place 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 determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are several ways to treat this disorder.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to allow you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most people. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. 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: In some cases, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. This strategy often utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your disorder treated punctually will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as you can. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.