Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not a fun situation. You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. Then you likely open 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. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Eventually, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when mechanics get a look at it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. There’s the common culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most people think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the point.
But sometimes, this sort of long-term, noise induced damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that distinct from those symptoms associated with traditional hearing loss. Things like turning the volume up 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 recognizing it easier. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this is not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all types of sounds around you.
- The inability to make out words: In some cases, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are confused and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. This could be an indication that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy may not be totally clear. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- The cilia that deliver signals to the brain can be compromised: If these tiny hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a specific way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t get the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. When this takes place, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really sure why some people will experience 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 experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show particular close associations.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to experience 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
- Other neurological conditions
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- 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)
- Preterm or premature birth
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Various kinds of immune disorders
- Specific infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Certain medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
Generally, it’s a smart idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A typical hearing exam 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 extremely minimal use.
One of the following two tests will normally be used instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to certain places on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes put particular focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us determine 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 run the appropriate tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you take your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to allow you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some individuals. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t typically the situation. Hearing aids are often used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most individuals. In these cases, a cochlear implant could be necessary. Signals from your inner ear are sent 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 diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s precisely what occurs. This approach often utilizes devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills exercises. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
Getting your condition treated punctually will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just regular old hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as soon as possible. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.