Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? That really stinks! You have to pull your car off the road. Then you probably pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s funny is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Eventually, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.
And it’s only when the professionals get a look at things that you get an understanding of the problem. 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 happen at times with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily identify what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual culprit. But in some cases, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most people think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. This is a hearing disorder where 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 conventional noise related hearing loss can often look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like turning the volume up on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is playing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Difficulty understanding speech: In some cases, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. Words are confused and unclear.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, 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 kinds of sounds around you.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the root causes behind this specific condition. On a personal level, the reasons why you may experience auditory neuropathy might not be totally clear. This condition can develop in both children and adults. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, generally speaking:
- Nerve damage: The hearing portion of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be compromised: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite sure why. Because of this, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent auditory neuropathy. However, there are close connections which might show that you’re at a higher risk of developing this condition.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this condition.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological conditions
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that are passed on genetically
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Various types of immune disorders
Generally, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as you can. If risk factors are there, it may be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing assessment, you’ll most likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
One of the following two tests will typically be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it reacts. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to specific spots on your head and scalp with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves respond to sound. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we run the applicable tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be managed in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to allow you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! Having said that, this isn’t usually the case, because, once again, volume is almost never the problem. Due to this, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the problem for most individuals. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing certain frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills exercises. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible
Getting your disorder treated punctually will, as with any hearing condition, lead to better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. This can be especially critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.