Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the highway? It’s not a fun situation. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you probably open your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Eventually, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the experts get a look at things that you get a picture of the issue. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can happen. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically identify what the underlying cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual cause. 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 harms your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, this sort of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for some reason, be correctly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in loud settings, you keep cranking up the volume on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms present like this, you can be pretty certain that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Of course, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is playing with the volume knob. If you’re dealing with these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t make sense of them. This can pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are confused and muddled sounding.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain can’t receive the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. Sounds might seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be damaged: If these fragile hairs in 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.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is quite certain why some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. But you may be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present certain close connections.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Preterm or premature birth
- 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 appearance to the skin)
- Other neurological disorders
Adult risk factors
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Some medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Immune diseases of various types
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a smart plan. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a normal hearing assessment, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will typically be done instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain places 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 react to sound. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. 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 assessed to see how it responds. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this condition can be managed in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some individuals. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the situation. Hearing aids are usually used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. In these situations, a cochlear implant might be necessary. Signals from your inner ear are conveyed directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or diminution of specific frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. 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
As with any hearing disorder, prompt treatment can produce better outcomes.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. This can be especially critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.