Definition

Auditory neuropathy is a hearing disorder that means sufferers have many problems understanding what is being said to them, particularly in noisy surroundings. This is the case even though individuals can usually understand speech in quiet surroundings.

Cause

The cause of AN is thought to be a problem with the transmission of sound from the inner ear to the brain. It can affect people of all ages. For some people, it could involve damage to the ear’s inner hair cells. These cells convert sounds into electrical impulses that travel to the brain via nerves. Other causes can include faulty connections between the inner hair cells and the nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain, or damage to the nerve itself. Sometimes a combination of these problems occurs.

Symptoms

People with AN may have a range of hearing abilities. Some have normal hearing, others have a mild to severe hearing loss identified during a hearing test. Frequently, their ability to perceive speech does not reflect the amount of identified hearing loss. They may hear the sounds but not be able to unscramble them into understandable speech. Speech may seem out of sync, muddled, and/or fades in and out.

Symptoms can vary; they may stay the same, fluctuate or worsen.

Diagnosis

A combination of tests are carried out to diagnose AN, including testing the brain’s response to sounds and how the inner ear reacts to sound. The classic result of these tests is an abnormal brain reaction and a normal inner ear reaction.

Impact

This disorder can have a huge impact on an individual’s relationships and social life, as the problem of clearly hearing speech in noise can be so great. It may lead to an individual ceasing normal social activities and withdrawing into themselves.

Being born with this disorder, can seriously harm the development of speech and language skills.

Treatment

A number of treatments are available, but opinions differ as to how effective each one is. Hearing aids, cochlea implants and personal listening devices are amongst those most often used.