Have you ever been in the middle of the road and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable experience. You have to pull your car off the road. And then, for some reason, you probably pop your hood and take a look at your engine.
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no idea how engines work. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient knob you can turn or something. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the issue only becomes apparent when experts diagnose it. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because automobiles are complex and computerized machines.
With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t automatically identify what the cause is. There’s the usual culprit (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. 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 noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your hearing. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than simple noise damage.
But sometimes, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be properly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms of conventional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. You can’t hear very well in noisy settings, you keep cranking the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can often make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.
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 experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Of course, nothing can replace getting an accurate diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and apply to all kinds of sounds around you.
- An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like someone is playing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy.
What triggers auditory neuropathy?
The root causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. It may not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. This condition can develop in both children and adults. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- 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 tries to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: If these little hairs in your inner ear become compromised in a particular way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
No one is quite certain why some individuals will develop auditory neuropathy while others might not. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present 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 experience auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- 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)
- Liver conditions that result in jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:
- Certain medications (specifically improper use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
- Immune diseases of various types
- Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
- Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
Generally, it’s a smart idea to limit these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, particularly if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing examination, you’ll most likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of very limited use.
Instead, we will generally suggest one of two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be tested with this diagnostic. A little microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of clicks and tones will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it responds. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain spots on your scalp and head. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes measure your brainwaves, with specific attention to how those brainwaves react 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 effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But there are several ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: In some milder 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 an adequate option for some people. Having said that, this isn’t typically the case, because, once again, volume is virtually never the problem. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or diminution of specific frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what occurs 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 allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can
As with any hearing condition, timely treatment can lead to better outcomes.
So if you think you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as you can. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely critical for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.