Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway 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 idea how engines work. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Ultimately, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the problem only becomes evident when experts get a look at it. That’s because cars are intricate, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t start) are not enough to tell you what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can happen. The cause isn’t always obvious by the symptoms. There’s the usual cause (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This form of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less common, can sometimes be the cause. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transfer those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud environments. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
Still, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t confronting sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Again, this isn’t a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can pertain to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
- An inability to make out words: Sometimes, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. Words are confused and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. If you’re experiencing these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
These symptoms can be explained, in part, by the root causes behind this particular disorder. On an individual level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy may not be entirely clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, generally speaking:
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete form once these little fragile hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really sure why some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there’s no exact science to preventing it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you may 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 raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Preterm or premature birth
- Other neurological conditions
- A low birth weight
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- Some medications (especially improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Immune disorders of various kinds
In general, it’s a smart plan to minimize these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are there, it may be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A normal hearing test consists of listening to tones with a set of headphones and raising a hand depending on which side you hear the tone on. That test won’t help much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will typically be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is made to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it responds. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain spots on your head and scalp. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t be concerned. These electrodes place specific focus on measuring how your brainwaves respond to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, just like you bring your car to the auto technician to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some people. But because volume usually isn’t the problem, this isn’t normally the situation. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to solve the issues. It may be necessary to go with cochlear implants in these cases. This implant, basically, takes the signals from your inner ear and conveys them directly to your brain. The internet has lots 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 occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. This strategy frequently utilizes devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
Getting your disorder 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! Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.