Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the road? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you likely pop your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Maybe whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And a picture of the problem only becomes evident when mechanics get a look at it. 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.
The same thing can happen in some cases with hearing loss. The cause isn’t always apparent by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common culprit. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of loud 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 a bit more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear receive sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing very well in loud environments. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and manage.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make discovering it easier. When hearing loss symptoms manifest like this, you can be pretty certain that it’s not normal 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 seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, 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: Maybe it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob in your head! This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
- Trouble understanding speech: Sometimes, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this happens, you may interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to discern.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really certain why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others might not. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might reveal that you’re at a higher risk of developing this disorder.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you could have all of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors shown, the higher your statistical probability of developing this disorder.
Children’s risk factors
Here are a few risk factors that will raise the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Other neurological disorders
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Specific infectious diseases, like mumps
- Various types of immune disorders
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
Minimizing 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?
A standard hearing exam consists of listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on which side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of clicks and tones will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it responds. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain spots on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes track 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.
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, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get 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 treat this disorder.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! Having said that, this is not typically the case, because, once again, volume is virtually never the problem. 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 issue for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant might be required. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or lowering certain frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
As with any hearing disorder, prompt treatment can lead to better results.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as you can. 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 especially crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.