Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? That really stinks! You have to pull your car 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 understanding of engines. Maybe you think there’ll be a handy knob you can turn or something. Ultimately, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the professionals check out things that you get an understanding of the issue. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur in some cases with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily identify what the underlying cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most people think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise related damage isn’t 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 some reason, be properly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of conventional 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 well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to identify. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, 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.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob inside of your head! If you’re encountering these symptoms it may be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: 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 understand them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just spoken words.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy may not be completely clear. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these little hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a particular way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. When this happens, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really certain why. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to combating it. But you may be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close associations.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you may have every single one of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological disorders
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Various kinds of immune disorders
Generally, it’s a smart idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, particularly if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A normal hearing test involves listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
Instead, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it responds. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain spots on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. 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 effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the auto technician to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are a few ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to allow you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate option for some people. But because volume usually isn’t the problem, this isn’t typically the situation. As a result, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most individuals. In these cases, a cochlear implant might be required. Signals from your inner ear are conveyed directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or reduction of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. This strategy often uses devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
As with any hearing condition, timely treatment can result in better results.
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 make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! This can be extremely crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.