Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? It’s not an enjoyable experience. You have to pull your car off the road. Then you probably pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no knowledge of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the professionals get a look at things that you get an understanding of the issue. That’s because cars are complex, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t start) aren’t enough to tell you what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical culprit. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals consider hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
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 sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be correctly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound just fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that distinct from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in loud settings, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique features that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, as always, you’ll be better served 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. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like someone is playing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
- The inability to make out words: Sometimes, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are confused and muddled sounding.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific condition. It may not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This condition can develop in both children and adults. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- Nerve damage: The hearing portion of your brain receives sound from a particular nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain can’t receive the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent auditory neuropathy. However, there are close connections which might reveal that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this condition.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and still not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of developing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Here are some risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological disorders
- Liver conditions that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
Adult risk factors
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Certain medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Various types of immune disorders
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
Limiting the risks as much as possible is generally a good idea. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a normal hearing examination, 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 usually be done instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to certain spots on your head and scalp with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the appropriate tests.
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 manage this disorder.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to allow you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the case. Due to this, hearing aids are usually combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the issues. It may 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. They’re rather amazing! (And you can find many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering specific frequencies. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s precisely what happens. This strategy frequently makes use of devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills training. 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 possible
Getting your condition treated promptly will, as with any hearing condition, produce better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you schedule an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your everyday life! Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.