Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? It’s not a fun experience. You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. Then you most likely open your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the experts check out things that you get an understanding of the issue. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily identify what the underlying cause is. There’s the usual cause (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals consider hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your hearing. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise related damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing disorder in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transfer those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with traditional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in noisy situations, you keep turning the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and manage.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make spotting it easier. These presentations are pretty strong indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, 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: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the spoken word and pertain to all types of sounds around you.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like someone is messing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what somebody is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are confused and unclear.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This disorder can develop in both children and adults. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will sound confused if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be damaged: If these fragile hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a specific way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really certain why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others might not. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to prevent auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing 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 develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this condition.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- 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
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological conditions
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Immune disorders of various types
- Some medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
Minimizing the risks as much as you can is always a smart plan. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart idea, particularly 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 which side you hear the tone on. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely limited use.
One of the following two tests will usually be used instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened 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 place particular focus on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us determine whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (such as auditory neuropathy).
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
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. auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to treat this disorder.
- Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some individuals. That said, this isn’t usually the case, because, again, volume is almost never the problem. As a result, hearing aids are frequently coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids will not be able to get around the issues. 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. They’re quite amazing! (And you can watch many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what occurs with a technology called frequency modulation. This approach often uses devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments could be combined with communication skills training. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
As with any hearing disorder, prompt treatment can produce better results.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s important 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 everyday life! Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.