Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? It’s not a fun experience. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you likely open your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the issue only becomes obvious when mechanics get a look at it. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the usual cause. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most people think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
But sometimes, this type of long-term, noise related damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can sometimes be the cause. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be properly carried to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound perfectly fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear well in noisy situations, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be fairly sure that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Trouble understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. The words sound garbled or distorted.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Again, this isn’t an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
- Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re encountering these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. It might not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on a personal level. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, broadly speaking:
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: 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 takes place, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is quite sure why. Because of this, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you show specific close connections.
It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you may have every single one of these risk factors and not experience auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will raise the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- 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
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Specific infectious diseases, like mumps
- Various kinds of immune disorders
- Certain medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
In general, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
A typical hearing test involves listening to tones with a set 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 extremely limited use.
Rather, we will generally suggest one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to specific spots on your head and scalp with this test. 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 respond 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.
Once we run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you take your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be treated in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. 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 go with cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. This strategy often utilizes devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will help you communicate using the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can result in better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible 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! Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.