Auditory neuropathy (AN) occurs when the nerve system of the inner ear fails to process sounds coming from the outer ear.
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The outer ear sends vibrations to the inner ear during the hearing process. Hair cells in the inner ear break down the vibrations into electrical signals. These are sent to the brain. The brain filters them as sound. Multiple factors may represent the underlying cause of AN. It may be due to:
- Damage to the hair cells in the inner ear
- Bad connections between the hair cells in the inner ear and the nerve to the brain
- Damaged nerve
- A combination of these problems
Factors that may increase your chance of AN include:
AN may cause:
- White noise—the sound is heard, but the word is not clear
- Sounds to tune in and out
- Words and sounds to seem out of sync
Ringing in the ears—
The level of hearing loss can vary from mild to severe. People with AN may have trouble picking out words. Many cases involve children.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) to measure brainwave activity
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) to record how the cells in the ear respond to clicking sounds
Goals of treatment include:
- Saving current hearing skills
- Restoring lost hearing
- Finding new ways of communicating
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Working with a team of specialists, including:
- Otolaryngologist (ENT)—doctor specializing in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat
- Audiologist—healthcare professional who specializes in hearing loss
- Speech-language pathologist—healthcare professional who specializes in communication disorders
Using technology, such as:
- Cochlear implants
—surgically implanted electronic devices that stimulate the auditory nerve to send information to the brain
- Hearing aids
- Listening devices such as frequency modulation (FM) systems
Having speech-language therapy, such as:
- Sign language
- Speech-reading—also known as lip-reading
- Exercises combining listening skills with technology
In many cases, the exact cause of AN is unknown. However, these steps may help:
- If you are pregnant, ask your doctor how you can avoid infections
- Talk to your doctor if you have any conditions related to AN
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Ontario Association for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists
Speech-Language & Audiology Canada
Auditory neuropathy. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at:
https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/auditory-neuropathy. Updated March 15, 2011. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Causes of hearing loss. My Baby’s Hearing website. Available at:
http://www.babyhearing.org/HearingAmplification/Causes/Neuropathy.asp. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Cochlear implants. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at:
http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1330. Updated January 2013. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Ototoxic medications (medication effects). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Ototoxic-Medications. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Ototoxicity. Vestibular Disorders Association website. Available at: http://vestibular.org/ototoxicity. Accessed May 11, 2016.