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 highway? It’s not an enjoyable situation. 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 despite the fact that you have no knowledge of engines. Perhaps you think there’ll be a convenient handle you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will need to be called.

And it’s only when the experts get a look at things that you get a picture of the issue. That’s because cars are complex, there are so many moving pieces and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t move) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.

With hearing loss, this same kind of thing can happen. The cause is not always obvious by the symptoms. There’s the common culprit (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, it’s something else, something like auditory neuropathy.

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 form of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the point.

But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be caused by something other than noise damage. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less prevalent, can sometimes be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be properly carried to your brain even though your ear is collecting that sound perfectly fine.

Auditory neuropathy symptoms

The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first glance, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with conventional hearing loss. You can’t hear very well in noisy situations, you keep turning up the volume on your television and other devices, that kind of thing. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and treat.

However, auditory neuropathy does have a few unique properties that make it possible to diagnose. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be pretty sure that it’s not standard noise related hearing loss. Of course, nothing can replace getting a real-time diagnosis from us about your hearing loss.

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

  • Difficulty understanding speech: Sometimes, you can’t make out what someone is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are unclear and muddled sounding.
  • Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. You can hear sounds but you simply can’t understand them. This can pertain to all kinds of sounds, not just speech.
  • 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 may be a case of auditory neuropathy.

Some triggers of auditory neuropathy

These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the root causes behind this particular disorder. On a personal level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:

  • Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these delicate hairs in your inner ear become damaged in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be sent on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
  • Damage to the nerves: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will sound confused if there is damage to this nerve. When this occurs, you may interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.

Risk factors of auditory neuropathy

No one is really certain why some individuals will experience auditory neuropathy while others might not. That’s why there’s no exact science to combating it. Nevertheless, there are close connections which might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.

It should be mentioned 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 shown, the higher your statistical probability of experiencing this disorder.

Children’s risk factors

Here are some risk factors that will increase the likelihood of auditory neuropathy in children:

  • Liver conditions 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
  • Preterm or premature birth
  • A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
  • A low birth weight

Adult risk factors

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

  • Certain infectious diseases, such as mumps
  • Some medications (specifically incorrect use of medications that can cause hearing problems)
  • Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
  • Immune disorders of various kinds

In general, it’s a smart idea to limit these risks as much as you can. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.

How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?

During a standard hearing examination, you’ll most likely be given a set of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.

Rather, we will usually suggest one of two tests:

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be fastened to certain places on your head and scalp with this test. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes put particular emphasis on tracking how your brainwaves react to sound stimuli. Whether you’re experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (outer ear) or auditory neuropathy (inner ear) will be established by the quality of your brainwaves.
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be checked with this diagnostic. A little microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of tones and clicks will be played. Then your inner ear will be assessed to see how it reacts. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.

Once we run the appropriate tests, we will be able to more successfully diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.

Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?

So you can bring your ears to us for treatment in the same way that you take your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be treated in a few possible ways.

  • Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient solution for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t typically the case. Hearing aids are often used in combination with other treatments because of this.
  • Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids will not be able to solve the problems. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these situations. Signals from your inner ear are sent directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has plenty of videos of people having success with these remarkable devices!
  • Frequency modulation: Sometimes, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or lowering specific frequencies. That’s what occurs with a technology called frequency modulation. This strategy often uses 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 let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.

It’s best to get treatment as soon as you can

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

So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the common form or auditory neuropathy. 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, particularly 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.