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. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and have a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even though you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient knob you can turn or something. Ultimately, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And it’s only when the professionals get a look at things that you get an understanding of the problem. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The cause isn’t always evident by the symptoms. There’s the normal culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
When most individuals consider hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that damages your ability to hear. This type 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. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. Things like turning the volume up on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud settings. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make recognizing it easier. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Of course, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t understand them. This can go beyond the spoken word and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is messing with the volume knob in your head! This could be an indication that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
Some causes of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by the symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy may not be totally clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: If these little hairs inside of your inner ear become damaged in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.
- Damage to the nerves: The hearing center of your brain gets sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve gets damaged, your brain doesn’t receive the complete signal, and consequently, the sounds it “interprets” will seem wrong. When this takes place, you might interpret sounds as garbled, indecipherable, or too quiet to differentiate.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is really sure why some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there’s no exact science to preventing it. But you may be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you show certain close associations.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- 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)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Other neurological conditions
- Preterm or premature birth
Adult risk factors
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of experiencing auditory neuropathy include:
- Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
- Various types of immune disorders
- Certain medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
In general, it’s a good idea to minimize these risks as much as possible. If risk factors are present, it might be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
During a typical 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 have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very minimal use.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be tested with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play a series of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected 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 place particular focus on measuring how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us identify whether your hearing problems reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
Once we run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But this condition can be treated in a few 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 with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some people. But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t normally the situation. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the problem for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant could be required. This implant, basically, 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 amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology called frequency modulation. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined with any combination of these treatments if necessary. This will help you communicate with 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 right away will, as with any hearing condition, produce 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! This can be especially crucial for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.