Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not a fun situation. Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and have a look at your engine.
What’s funny is that you do this even though you have no idea 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 garage.
And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when experts diagnose it. That’s because cars are complex, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t move) aren’t enough to tell you what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically reveal what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the typical cause. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something else besides noise damage. While it’s less common, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition where your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing very well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are pretty solid indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Obviously, nothing can replace getting an accurate diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, the volume of a word is just fine, but you just can’t understand what’s being said. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by the symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you might experience auditory neuropathy may not be completely clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Nerve damage: The hearing portion of your brain gets sound from a specific nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in full form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a particular way.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite certain why. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show specific close associations.
Keep 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 develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Children’s risk factors
Here are some risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological conditions
Risk factors for adults
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Certain medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Immune diseases of various types
- Auditory neuropathy and other hearing conditions that run in the family
Generally, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are there, it might be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a standard hearing assessment, you’ll most likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you’re dealing with 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: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series 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 problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain places on your scalp and head. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes put particular focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re experiencing 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 successful once we do the applicable tests.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you take your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this disorder 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 individuals, hearing aids will work perfectly fine! But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t typically the situation. Hearing aids are often used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to solve the problems. In these cases, a cochlear implant could be needed. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or reduction of specific frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are utilized in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills training. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
Getting your condition treated punctually will, as with any hearing condition, produce better outcomes.
So it’s important 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 once you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be especially crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.