Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

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 a fun situation. Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. And then, for some reason, you probably pop 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 you think there’ll be a handy handle you can turn or something. Inevitably, a tow truck will have to be called.

And a picture of the problem only becomes apparent when mechanics get a look at it. Just because the car isn’t starting, doesn’t mean you can know what’s wrong with it because vehicles are complicated and computerized machines.

The same thing can happen in some cases with hearing loss. The symptom itself doesn’t necessarily indicate what the underlying cause is. There’s the normal cause (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But in some cases, something else like auditory neuropathy is the cause.

What is auditory neuropathy?

When most individuals think about hearing loss, they think of loud concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your hearing. This form of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

But in some cases, this kind of long-term, noise related damage isn’t the cause of hearing loss. A condition called auditory neuropathy, while less common, can in some cases be the cause. When sound can’t, for some reason, be correctly carried to your brain even though your ear is receiving that sound perfectly fine.

Auditory neuropathy symptoms

The symptoms associated with auditory neuropathy are, at first glimpse, not all that distinct from those symptoms associated with traditional hearing loss. Things like turning up the volume on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud environments. This can frequently make auditory neuropathy difficult to diagnose and manage.

Auditory neuropathy, however, has some distinctive symptoms that make identifying it easier. These presentations are pretty strong indicators that you aren’t dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, but with auditory neuropathy instead. 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:

  • The inability to make out words: Sometimes, you can’t understand what a person is saying even though the volume is normal. The words sound garbled or distorted.
  • Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. If you’re encountering these symptoms it might be a case of auditory neuropathy.
  • 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 spoken word and pertain to all types of sounds around you.

Some causes of auditory neuropathy

These symptoms can be articulated, in part, by the underlying causes behind this particular condition. It might not be entirely clear why you have developed auditory neuropathy on an individual level. Both adults and children can experience this disorder. And, generally speaking, there are a couple of well described possible causes:

  • Damage to the cilia that transmit signals to the brain: If these little hairs in your inner ear become compromised in a specific way, the sound your ear detects can’t really be passed on to your brain, at least, not in its full form.
  • Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that carries sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing portion of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. When this happens, you might interpret sounds as garbled, unclear, or too quiet to discern.

Auditory neuropathy risk factors

Some people will experience auditory neuropathy while other people won’t and no one is quite sure why. As a result, there isn’t a definitive way to counter auditory neuropathy. Nevertheless, there are close connections which may show that you’re at a higher risk of experiencing this disorder.

Bear 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 developing this condition.

Children’s risk factors

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

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

Risk factors for adults

Here are a few auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:

  • Family history of hearing disorders, including auditory neuropathy
  • Various types of immune disorders
  • Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
  • Specific infectious diseases, like mumps

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

Diagnosing auditory neuropathy

During a typical hearing test, 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 much with auditory neuropathy.

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

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: Specialized electrodes will be connected to specific places on your scalp and head with this test. Again, don’t be concerned, there’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about this test. These electrodes put particular emphasis 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.
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The response of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a series of clicks and tones will be played. The diagnostic device will then determine how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is an issue, this data will expose it.

Diagnosing your auditory neuropathy will be much more effective once we do the applicable tests.

Is there treatment for auditory neuropathy?

So, just like 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 this condition can be managed in a few possible ways.

  • Hearing aids: In some less severe cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even with auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be a sufficient option for some people. That said, this is not typically the case, because, again, volume is virtually never the problem. Due to this, hearing aids are usually coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
  • Cochlear implant: For some individuals, hearing aids will not be able to get around the problems. It might be necessary to opt for cochlear implants in these instances. Signals from your inner ear are transmitted directly to your brain with this implant. They’re pretty amazing! (And you can watch all kinds of YouTube videos of them working for patients.)
  • Frequency modulation: Sometimes, amplification or diminution of certain frequencies can help you hear better. That’s what occurs with a technology known as frequency modulation. This approach frequently makes use of devices that are, basically, highly customized hearing aids.
  • Communication skills training: In some cases, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills exercises. This will help you communicate with the hearing you have and work around your symptoms instead of treating them.

It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible

Getting your disorder treated right away will, as with any hearing disorder, produce 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. The sooner you make an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your everyday life! This can be especially crucial for children, who experience a great deal 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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