Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable situation. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. Then you likely 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 totally obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the mechanics check out things that you get an understanding of the issue. That’s because cars are complicated, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t move) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily reveal what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual culprit. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people consider hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your ability to hear. This form 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 induced 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 whatever reason, be properly sent to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud settings. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make determining it easier. When hearing loss symptoms present in this way, you can be pretty sure that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t 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 apply to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- An inability to make out words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob in your head! This could be an indication that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by the symptoms. It may not be completely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both children and adults can experience this disorder. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: 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 sound wrong. When this takes place, you may interpret sounds as jumbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to discern.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really sure 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 experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present specific close associations.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you may have all of these risk factors and not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical probability of developing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological disorders
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A low birth weight
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Various kinds of immune diseases
In general, it’s a good plan to minimize these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing test, you’ll most likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely limited use.
One of the following two tests will normally be used instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain spots on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with specific 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 response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a series of clicks and tones will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it responds. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
Once we run 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 in the same way that you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are a few ways to manage this condition.
- 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 issue, this isn’t typically the case. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most individuals. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. They’re pretty amazing! (And you can find all kinds of YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology called frequency modulation. This approach often 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 let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can
Getting your condition treated punctually will, as with any hearing disorder, produce 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 once you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.