Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable experience. You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. Then you most likely open your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no idea how engines work. Maybe you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Ultimately, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when experts diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complex and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can occur. The cause is not always obvious by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical cause. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most individuals think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the point.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something else besides noise damage. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be correctly sent to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with conventional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in loud situations, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can often make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties 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 an accurate diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Difficulty understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like someone is playing 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 completely normal, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and apply to all types of sounds around you.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. It may not be completely 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 compromised: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Nerve damage: The hearing center of your brain gets sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain can’t get the full signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite sure why some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others may not. Because of this, there isn’t a tried and true way to prevent auditory neuropathy. But you may be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show certain close associations.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and still not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of developing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Some medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Various types of immune disorders
Generally, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good plan, especially if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A normal hearing test involves listening to tones with a pair of headphones and raising a hand depending on what side you hear the tone on. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
One of the following two tests will typically be done instead:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to specific spots on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us identify whether your hearing problems reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. A little microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks 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 issue.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we do the applicable tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the auto technician to get 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: 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 people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t typically the case. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most individuals. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. They’re pretty amazing! (And you can watch all kinds of YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or reduction of specific frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what happens. This strategy often uses devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be put together with any combination of these treatments if necessary. 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 possible
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can lead to better results.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you schedule an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! This can be extremely crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.