Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the road? It’s not an enjoyable experience. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably pop your hood and have a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And it’s only when the mechanics get a look at things that you get a picture of the issue. That’s because cars are complicated, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t start) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur in some cases with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily reveal what the underlying cause is. There’s the normal cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This form of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complex than that, but you get the point.
But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise related damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing disorder where your ear and inner ear collect sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transfer those sounds to your brain.
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 well in loud situations, you keep turning the volume up on your television and other devices, that sort of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make discovering it easier. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. 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: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like someone is messing with the volume knob. This could be an indication that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and apply to all types of sounds around you.
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. It might not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a particular way.
- Nerve damage: The hearing portion of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain can’t get the complete signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will sound wrong. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to discern.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really sure why. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. But you may be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close associations.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- 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
- Other neurological disorders
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
- Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Immune disorders of various types
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a good idea. If risk factors are there, it may be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a standard hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely minimal use.
Instead, we will generally suggest one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain places on your scalp and head. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes place specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves respond to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us identify 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 do the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several 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 if you have auditory neuropathy. For some individuals, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume usually isn’t the problem, this isn’t typically the situation. Due to this, hearing aids are frequently combined with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant may be required. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. The internet has lots 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 approach often makes use of devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments may be combined with communication skills training. This will allow you to 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, timely treatment can lead to better outcomes.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary 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 especially critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.