Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably pop your hood and take a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no understanding of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will have to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when mechanics diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same type of thing can happen. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily reveal what the cause is. There’s the normal culprit (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your hearing. This type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes 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 transfer those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that distinct from those symptoms linked to conventional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in loud settings, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and manage.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to identify. When hearing loss symptoms present in this way, you can be pretty certain that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Trouble understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob inside of your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this specific disorder. It might not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both adults and children can experience this condition. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that transmit 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.
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound confused if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is quite certain why. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to combating it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
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 shown, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- A low birth weight
- Liver disorders that lead to 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 disorders
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
Adult risk factors
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Immune disorders of various types
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
Limiting the risks as much as possible is always a good idea. If risk factors are present, it might be a good plan 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 which side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
Rather, we will typically recommend one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to specific spots on your scalp and head with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes track your brainwaves, with particular attention to how those brainwaves react to sound. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. A little microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as 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: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to allow you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate option for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t normally the case. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the issues. In these situations, a cochlear implant could be necessary. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering specific frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments may 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, produce better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! This can be especially crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.