Auditory neuropathy is a hearing disorder in which sound enters the inner ear normally but the transmission of signals from the inner ear to the brain is impaired. It can affect people of all ages, from infancy through adulthood. The number of people affected by auditory neuropathy is not known, but the condition affects a relatively small percentage of people who are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
People with auditory neuropathy may have normal hearing, or hearing loss ranging from mild to severe; they always have poor speech-perception abilities, meaning they have trouble understanding speech clearly. Often, speech perception is worse than would be predicted by the degree of hearing loss. For example, a person with auditory neuropathy may be able to hear sounds, but would still have difficulty recognizing spoken words. Sounds may fade in and out for these individuals and seem out of sync.
Health professionals, including otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors), pediatricians, and audiologists, use a combination of methods to diagnose auditory neuropathy. These include tests of auditory brainstem response (ABR) and otoacoustic emissions (OAE). The hallmark of auditory neuropathy is a negligible or very abnormal ABR reading together with a normal OAE reading. A normal OAE reading is a sign that the outer hair cells are working normally.
An ABR test monitors brain wave activity in response to sound using electrodes that are placed on the person's head and ears. An OAE test uses a small, very sensitive microphone inserted into the ear canal to monitor the faint sounds produced by the outer hair cells in response to stimulation by a series of clicks. ABR and OAE testing are painless and can be used for newborn babies and infants as well as older children and adults. Other tests may also be used as part of a more comprehensive evaluation of an individual's hearing and speech-perception abilities.
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