Auditory Nerve Damage
The auditory nerve located within the inner ear is responsible for transmitting sound from the middle ear to the auditory centers in the brain. The auditory nerve is composed of two parts. The cochlea located in the inner ear has tiny nerve cells responsible for transmitting sounds from the middle ear. The second part of the auditory nerve is the auditory nerve also referred to as the vestibulocochlear nerve or the eighth cranial nerve. This auditory nerve pathway carries sound and other information to the brain, which translates position and direction of sound origin as well as body position necessary to control balance.
Sensorineural hearing loss is deafness that happens when this nerve is damaged. Unfortunately, nerve deafness is generally permanent. Though there are new research and developments for cochlear implants and other treatment, none fully restores hearing loss due to nerve deafness. Auditory nerve damage can result from infection, disease, trauma, or medications. Though rare, brain tumors can also lead to damage to the auditory nerve and permanent deafness. Loud sounds damage the auditory nerve over time. Because damage occurs gradually, the cumulative effect of exposure to loud noises may not result in hearing loss until later in life.
Early symptoms of auditory nerve damage may involve hearing or balance problems as the auditory system communicates information concerning sound and body positioning to the brain. Symptoms include tinnitus, sensorineural hearing loss, dizziness, or vertigo with or without vomiting and nausea. Though tinnitus is often described as ringing in the ears, other phantom noises can include clicking, whistling, roaring, or buzzing that occurs intermittently or constantly to various degrees. Hearing loss usually accompanies damage to the auditory nerve. Hearing loss may vary due to the type of damage and degree. Vertigo is the false feeling that you or the room is spinning even though neither is true. Falls are a risk with vertigo as you attempt to correct this miscommunication of being off balance. Nausea and vomiting can also accompany the dizziness and episodes of vertigo resulting from auditory nerve damage.
Individuals with damage to the auditory nerve are permanently deaf. Though most deaf people retain some level of residual hearing, what is heard or clearly comprehended may vary from simply hearing a sound or differentiating various tones. Deaf education can help people recognize types of hearing loss and ways to decrease auditory nerve damage. Auditory nerve damage makes it hard for deaf people to hear most sounds. Loss of hearing and deafness varies in degrees from hard of hearing to total deafness. Where damage is less severe, auditory nerve damage can make it difficult for hard of hearing people to differentiate between words or tell where the words are coming from. If treatment is sought at the first sign of hearing loss and an underlying condition is treatable, hearing may occasionally be restored. However, this is not usually the case. Most deaf people have conductive hearing loss due to damage in the middle ear structures. Neural hearing loss due to auditory nerve damage is much less common than conductive hearing loss and is usually irreversible. Hearing aids and other options available to the deaf community that has conductive hearing loss do not work for those with auditory nerve damage. Deaf education can help individuals cope with the loss of hearing by learning sign language or using other tools to communicate with a hearing society. Presently, there are no options to reverse auditory nerve damage in most individuals.
There are a number of ongoing research studies looking at ways to help deaf individuals with auditory nerve damage. Though options are not yet ready for public use, auditory nerve implants may soon offer an option for individuals with auditory nerve damage. Cochlear implants currently available for some deaf individuals do not totally restore hearing. Furthermore, cochlear implants have been the source of heated debate among experts as well as those in the deaf culture and deaf community. Many deaf individuals resent the notion their lack of hearing is a disease or condition that needs to be fixed. They take pride in being a part of a deaf community and deaf culture that accepts them the way they are and see no need for what some feel is unnecessary experimental research. As with the rest of society, the deaf community and deaf culture have those who do see the options as something that should be available to those who want to take advantage of them. A new treatment option showing promise to those seeking early treatment for auditory nerve damage is targeted neural stimulation.
Deaf education and research will continue to make advances in understanding, preventing, and treating auditory nerve damage. The best way to decrease your risk of auditory nerve damage is to know your health risks and use ear protection if you work in loud industrial areas. Also, have your hearing tested at least annually if you are at risk for auditory nerve damage for any reason. Early detection of changes in hearing can determine the type of loss and may prevent permanent deafness.