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 off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably pop 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. Maybe you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Eventually, you have to call someone to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when mechanics get a look at it. That’s because cars are complicated, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t move) aren’t enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur in some cases with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common culprit. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.
What is auditory neuropathy?
Most individuals think of extremely loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This form of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something else besides noise damage. A condition known as auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can in some cases be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be correctly sent to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound perfectly fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
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 settings. This can sometimes make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some specific 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. Though, naturally, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.
The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to go up and down like someone is messing with the volume knob. If you’re experiencing these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not a problem 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 go beyond the spoken word and apply to all kinds of sounds around you.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy might not be entirely clear. This condition can develop in both adults and children. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- Damage to the cilia that send signals to the brain: Sound can’t be sent to your brain in complete 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 tries to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite sure why. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you show particular close connections.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.
Risk factors for children
Here are a few risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:
- 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
- Preterm or premature birth
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- Other neurological disorders
- A low birth weight
Risk factors for adults
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Specific infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
- Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Various kinds of immune diseases
In general, it’s a smart 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.
Diagnosing auditory neuropathy
A typical 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 respond to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to certain spots on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes place 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 established by the quality of your brainwaves.
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
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. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are several ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in moderate cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume usually isn’t the issue, this isn’t typically the situation. Hearing aids are usually used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to get around the problems. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. The internet has plenty of videos of people 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 called frequency modulation. This approach frequently uses devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be put together 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.
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 right away whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.