Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably pop your hood and take a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, you have to call someone to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the professionals check out things that you get a picture of the problem. That’s because cars are complicated, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t start) aren’t enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can happen at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common culprit. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most individuals think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But sometimes, this kind of long-term, noise induced damage is not 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. When sound can’t, for some reason, be effectively transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some unique symptoms that make determining it easier. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be fairly certain that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Again, this isn’t 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 understand them. This can pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just spoken words.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like somebody is messing with the volume knob. This could be an indication that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Trouble understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. The words sound garbled or distorted.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular disorder. On a personal level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy may not be entirely clear. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, generally speaking:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: If these fragile hairs in your inner ear become compromised in a particular way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be sent 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. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is quite certain why. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show particular close connections.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you could have all of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A low birth weight
- 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)
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Other neurological disorders
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Specific infectious diseases, like mumps
- Immune diseases of various types
- Some medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
In general, it’s a good plan to limit these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a normal hearing examination, you’ll most likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to specific places on your scalp and head. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. 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 reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it reacts. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the issue.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run 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. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be treated in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some moderate 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 people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t typically the situation. As a result, hearing aids are frequently combined with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to get around the problems. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by boosting or lowering certain frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. This approach frequently makes use of devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments could 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.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can
Getting your condition treated promptly will, as with any hearing disorder, lead to better outcomes.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you schedule 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.