Problems in communication concept, misunderstanding create confusion in work, miscommunicate unclear message and information, people have troubles with understanding each other due to auditory neuropathy.

Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? It’s not an enjoyable experience. You have to pull your car safely to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably open 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 whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Eventually, you have to call someone to tow your car to a garage.

And a picture of the issue only becomes evident when experts diagnose it. That’s because cars are intricate, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t start) aren’t enough to tell you what’s wrong.

With hearing loss, this same sort of thing can occur. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily indicate what the cause is. Sure, noise-related hearing loss is the common cause. But sometimes, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.

What is auditory neuropathy?

Most people think of really loud noise like a rock concert or a jet engine when they consider hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s a bit more involved than basic noise damage.

But in some cases, this type of long-term, noise induced damage is not the cause of hearing loss. While it’s less common, hearing loss can sometimes be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition in which your ear and inner ear collect sounds perfectly fine, but for some reason, can’t fully transmit those sounds to your brain.

Symptoms of auditory neuropathy

The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms linked to traditional hearing loss. You can’t hear well in loud situations, you keep turning the volume up on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so difficult.

Still, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique features that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms present like this, you can be fairly certain that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, as always, you’ll be better informed by an official diagnosis from us.

Here are a few of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:

  • Sounds sound jumbled or confused: This is, once again, not a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all types of sounds around you.
  • Sound fades in and out: Perhaps it feels like somebody is messing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
  • Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what somebody is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound garbled or distorted.

Some causes of auditory neuropathy

The underlying causes of this condition can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you might develop auditory neuropathy might not be entirely clear. Both children and adults can develop this condition. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:

  • Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in full form once these little delicate hairs have been compromised in a specific way.
  • Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain tries to “interpret” will sound unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.

Risk factors of auditory neuropathy

Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is really certain why. That’s why there’s no exact science to preventing it. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you show particular close connections.

It should be noted that these risk factors aren’t guarantees, you could have all of these risk factors and still not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical probability of developing this disorder.

Risk factors for children

Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:

  • Preterm or premature birth
  • A low birth weight
  • A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
  • Liver disorders that result in jaundice (a yellow appearance to the skin)
  • An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
  • Other neurological conditions

Adult risk factors

Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:

  • Various kinds of immune disorders
  • Some medications (especially incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing issues)
  • Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
  • auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically

In general, it’s a smart plan to limit these risks as much as you can. If risk factors are present, it might be a good idea to schedule regular screenings with us.

Diagnosing auditory neuropathy

A standard 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.

Rather, we will usually recommend one of two tests:

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain spots on your head and scalp. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes place particular focus on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea respond to sound stimuli. We will put a little microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be measured to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will expose it.

Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more successful once we run the appropriate tests.

Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?

So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you bring your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Auditory neuropathy generally has no cure. But there are several ways to treat this condition.

  • Hearing aids: In some moderate cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. For some people, hearing aids will work just fine! But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t usually the case. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
  • Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be able to solve the issue for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant may be required. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and transports them directly to your brain. They’re pretty amazing! (And you can watch many YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
  • Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing specific frequencies. That’s what happens with a technology known as frequency modulation. This strategy frequently utilizes 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 needed. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.

The sooner you get treatment, the better

Getting your condition treated promptly will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.

So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just normal hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as quickly as possible. The sooner you make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! This can be extremely critical for children, who experience a lot of cognitive development and linguistic growth during their early years.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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