Have you ever had your vehicle break down in the middle of the road? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled off the road. And then, for whatever reason, you probably open your hood and take a look at your engine.
Humorously, you still do this even though you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.
And it’s only when the mechanics get a look at things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car is not moving, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complex and computerized machines.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always apparent by the symptoms. There’s the common cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the culprit.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
Most people think of really loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than basic noise damage.
But sometimes, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something else besides noise damage. While it’s less prevalent, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition known as auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for whatever reason, be properly transmitted to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound just fine.
Symptoms of auditory neuropathy
The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that distinct from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being capable of hearing well in loud settings. This can often make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.
However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be fairly certain that it’s not normal noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
The more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
- Trouble understanding speech: 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: Maybe it feels like somebody is playing with the volume knob inside of your head! If you’re dealing with these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
Some triggers of auditory neuropathy
The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be defined by its symptoms. It may not be very clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both children and adults can experience this condition. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:
- The cilia that deliver 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 compromised in a particular 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 may seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really sure why some people will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close associations which might reveal that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.
Keep 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 condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Liver disorders that lead to jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- Preterm or premature birth
- A low birth weight
- Other neurological conditions
Adult risk factors
Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- Immune diseases of various types
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
- Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
In general, it’s a good plan 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.
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. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to determine how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. A little microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of clicks and tones. The diagnostic device will then measure how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. The data will help identify whether the inner ear is the problem.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain 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 specific 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 determined by the quality of your brainwaves.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully 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! auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are a few ways to manage this condition.
- Hearing aids: Even if you have auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can amplify sound enough to enable you to hear better. For some individuals, hearing aids will work just fine! Having said that, this is not generally the case, because, once again, volume is virtually never the issue. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
- Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issues. It may be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. This implant, essentially, 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 remarkable devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering certain frequencies. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. This strategy frequently utilizes devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
- Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be put together with any combination of these treatments if needed. This will allow you to work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you get treatment, the better
As with any hearing condition, prompt treatment can produce better results.
So it’s essential to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to get back to hearing better and enjoying your life after you make an appointment and get treated. This can be especially crucial for children, who experience a great deal of cognitive development and linguistic expansion during their early years.