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Auditory neuropathy.


Ten patients presented as children or young adults with hearing impairments that, by behavioural and physiological testing, were compatible with a disorder of the auditory portion of the VIII cranial nerve. Evidence of normal cochlear outer hair cell function was provided by preservation of otoacoustic emissions and cochlear microphonics in all of the patients. Auditory brainstem potentials showed evidence of abnormal auditory pathway function beginning with the VIII nerve: the potentials were absent in nine patients and severely distorted in one patient. Auditory brainstem reflexes (middle ear muscles; crossed suppression of otoacoustic emissions) were absent in all of the tested patients. Behavioural audiometric testing showed a mild to moderate elevation of pure tone threshold in nine patients. The extent of the hearing loss, if due to cochlear receptor damage, should not have resulted in the loss of auditory brainstem potentials. The shape of the pure tone loss varied, being predominantly low frequency in five patients, flat across all frequencies in three patients and predominantly high frequency in two patients. Speech intelligibility was tested in eight patients, and in six was affected out of proportion to what would have been expected if the pure tone loss were of cochlear origin. The patients were otherwise neurologically normal when the hearing impairment was first manifest. Subsequently, eight of these patients developed evidence for a peripheral neuropathy. The neuropathy was hereditary in three and sporadic in five. We suggest that this type of hearing impairment is due to a disorder of auditory nerve function and may have, as one of its causes, a neuropathy of the auditory nerve, occurring either in isolation or as part of a generalized neuropathic process.

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