Auditory Neuropathy, What is it?

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 had your car break down in the middle of the road? It’s not an enjoyable experience. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you most likely pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Who knows why?

Humorously, you still do this even though you have no understanding of engines. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a garage.

And it’s only when the professionals get a look at things that you get a picture of the problem. Just because the car is not starting, doesn’t mean you can tell what’s wrong with it because cars are complicated and computerized machines.

With hearing loss, this same type of thing can happen. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily identify what the underlying cause is. 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 people think of extremely loud noise such as a rock concert or a jet engine when they think of hearing loss. This kind of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

But sometimes, this type 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 known as auditory neuropathy. When sound can’t, for some reason, be correctly sent to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound just fine.

Symptoms of auditory neuropathy

The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can sometimes look a lot like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear well in loud settings. This can often make auditory neuropathy hard to diagnose and treat.

However, auditory neuropathy does have some unique features that make it possible to identify. These presentations are rather strong indicators that you aren’t experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, but auditory neuropathy instead. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.

Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:

  • Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is messing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
  • The inability to make out words: Sometimes, the volume of a word is normal, but you just can’t distinguish what’s being said. The words sound garbled or distorted.
  • Sounds sound jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you just can’t make sense of them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all types of sounds around you.

Some triggers of auditory neuropathy

The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by the symptoms. It may not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on a personal level. Both children and adults can develop this disorder. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:

  • Nerve damage: 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 seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem garbled or too quiet to hear when this happens.
  • The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: If these tiny hairs inside of your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear senses can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its complete form.

Risk factors of auditory neuropathy

Some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is really sure why. As a result, there isn’t a tried and true way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you may be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present certain close connections.

It should be mentioned that these risk factors are not guarantees, you might have all of these risk factors and not develop auditory neuropathy. But you’re more statistically likely to develop auditory neuropathy the more risk factors you have.

Risk factors for children

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

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

Adult risk factors

For adults, risk factors that raise your likelihood of developing auditory neuropathy include:

  • Mumps and other specific infectious diseases
  • Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
  • Immune disorders of various kinds
  • Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy

Limiting the risks as much as you can is generally a smart plan. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.

Diagnosing auditory neuropathy

During a standard hearing examination, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. When you’re dealing with auditory neuropathy, that test will be of extremely limited use.

One of the following two tests will usually be done instead:

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During this diagnostic test, you’ll have special electrodes attached to certain spots on your head and scalp. This test isn’t painful or unpleasant in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes place specific emphasis on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave responses will help us identify whether your hearing issues reside in your outer ear (such as sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (such as auditory neuropathy).
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: This diagnostic is designed to measure how well your inner ear and cochlea react to sound stimuli. A tiny microphone is placed just inside your ear canal. Then, we will play an array of tones and clicks. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. The data will help determine whether the inner ear is the issue.

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 you can bring your ears to us for treatment just like you take your car to the mechanic to have it fixed. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be treated in several possible ways.

  • Hearing aids: Even with auditory neuropathy, in milder cases, hearing aids can boost sound enough to enable you to hear better. Hearing aids will be an adequate solution for some individuals. But because volume isn’t usually the issue, this isn’t typically the case. Due to this, hearing aids are often coupled with other therapy and treatment solutions.
  • Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most people. In these instances, a cochlear implant may be required. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. They’re quite amazing! (And you can watch all kinds of 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 called frequency modulation, that’s precisely what happens. This strategy frequently makes use of devices that are, essentially, highly customized hearing aids.
  • Communication skills training: Communication skills exercises can be combined with any combination of these treatments if necessary. 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

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

So if you suspect you have auditory neuropathy, or even just ordinary hearing loss, it’s essential to get treatment as soon as possible. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you schedule an appointment and get treated. Children, who experience a lot of cognitive growth and development, especially need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.

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.