Have you ever had your car break down in the middle of the highway? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably pop your hood and take a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this despite the fact that you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.
And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when experts diagnose it. That’s because cars are complex, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (a car that won’t start) are not enough to tell you what’s wrong.
With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can happen. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. There’s the usual cause (noise-related 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 form of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than simple noise damage.
But in some cases, this sort of long-term, noise related damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be correctly carried to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound just fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glance, not all that distinct from those symptoms linked to conventional hearing loss. Things like turning the volume up on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.
However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather solid indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Trouble understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t understand what somebody is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are unclear and unclear.
- Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob in your head! This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can apply to all sorts of sounds, not just speech.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The root causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On a personal level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. Both adults and children can develop this condition. And there are a couple of well defined possible causes, broadly speaking:
- The cilia that send signals to the brain can be compromised: 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 center of your brain gets sound from a particular nerve in your ear. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound confused if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Auditory neuropathy risk factors
Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite sure why. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. Still, there are close associations which may reveal that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.
Children’s risk factors
Factors that can increase the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological conditions
- Liver disorders that cause jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
Risk factors for adults
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Immune diseases of various kinds
- Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
- Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
Limiting the risks as much as you can is generally a smart plan. If risk factors are present, it may be a good plan to schedule regular screenings with us.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a standard hearing test, you’ll most likely be given a pair of headphones and be asked to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you have auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely limited use.
One of the following two tests will typically be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. A little microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of tones and clicks will be played. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear responds to those tones and clicks. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the issue.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to specific places on your head and scalp. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes put particular focus on tracking 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 (such as auditory neuropathy).
Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the applicable tests.
Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?
So, in the same way as you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be treated in several possible ways.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume usually isn’t the problem, this isn’t usually the case. Due to this, hearing aids are usually coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. It may be necessary to go with cochlear implants in these cases. Signals from your inner ear are conveyed directly to your brain with this implant. They’re rather amazing! (And you can watch many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology known as frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this strategy.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills training can be combined with any combination of these treatments if needed. 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
As with any hearing disorder, timely treatment can produce better results.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you schedule an appointment and get treated. This can be extremely critical for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.