What is Auditory Neuropathy?

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 a fun situation. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of 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 understanding of engines. Maybe whatever is wrong will be obvious. Eventually, you have to call somebody to tow your car to a mechanic.

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

The same thing can happen sometimes with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily indicate what the cause is. There’s the usual cause (noise-associated hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.

What is auditory neuropathy?

When most people consider hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your hearing. This form of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the idea.

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

Symptoms of auditory neuropathy

The symptoms of traditional noise related hearing loss can often look very much like those of auditory neuropathy. Things like cranking up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud settings. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.

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

The more distinctive symptoms of auditory neuropathy include:

  • Sound fades in and out: Maybe it feels like someone is playing with the volume knob in your head! If you’re experiencing these symptoms it could be a case of auditory neuropathy.
  • Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this is not an issue with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is completely normal, the problem is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and pertain to all kinds of sounds around you.
  • An inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what somebody is saying even though the volume is normal. Words are confused and muddled sounding.

Some causes of auditory neuropathy

These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this particular disorder. On an individual level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy might not be entirely clear. This condition can develop in both children and adults. And there are a couple of well described possible causes, generally speaking:

  • Nerve damage: The hearing center of your brain receives sound from a specific nerve in your ear. If this nerve becomes damaged, your brain doesn’t receive the complete signal, and as a result, the sounds it “interprets” will sound off. When this happens, you might interpret sounds as jumbled, unclear, or too quiet to differentiate.
  • The cilia that send signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in full form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a particular way.

Risk factors of auditory neuropathy

Some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others won’t and no one is quite certain why. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. But you might be at a higher risk of experiencing auditory neuropathy if you present particular close associations.

Bear in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still might or may not develop auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of developing this disorder.

Children’s risk factors

Factors that can increase 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)
  • Other neurological disorders
  • Liver conditions that cause jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
  • A lack of oxygen during birth or before labor begins
  • Preterm or premature birth
  • A low birth weight

Risk factors for adults

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

  • Mumps and other distinct infectious diseases
  • Overuse of medications that cause hearing issues
  • Family history of hearing conditions, including auditory neuropathy
  • Various types of immune disorders

Generally, it’s a good idea to limit these risks as much as possible. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a good idea, especially if you do have risk factors.

How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?

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.

Instead, we will generally recommend one of two tests:

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be attached to certain places on your head and scalp with this test. This test isn’t painful or uncomfortable in any way so don’t worry. These electrodes put specific focus on tracking how your brainwaves respond to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us determine whether your hearing problems reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. We will put a small microphone just inside your ear canal. Then a series 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.

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 just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed. Generally speaking, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be managed in a few possible ways.

  • Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to supply the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be an adequate option for some people. But because volume isn’t usually the problem, this isn’t usually the case. Hearing aids are usually used in conjunction with other treatments because of this.
  • Cochlear implant: Hearing aids won’t be capable of solving the issue for most individuals. In these situations, a cochlear implant might be required. Signals from your inner ear are transmitted directly to your brain with this implant. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these remarkable devices!
  • Frequency modulation: In some cases, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s exactly what occurs. Basically, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
  • Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments could be combined with communication skills training. 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 disorder, prompt treatment can result in better outcomes.

So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated as soon as possible whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. You’ll be able to go back to hearing better and enjoying your life once you make 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.

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