There are a few different types of hearing loss. Here we explain conductive hearing loss, including its causes and treatment options.
The two main types of hearing loss are conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. The key difference between the two is that they affect different parts of the ear. Your ear can be split up into three parts ‒ the outer ear, middle ear, and the inner ear.
Definition of Conductive Hearing Loss
If you have conductive hearing loss, you have an issue with the outer or middle ear (and sometimes the ear canal), making it hard for sounds to get through to your inner ear where it needs to be processed. On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) results from damage to the inner ear (or the sensory part of the ear), where sounds are transmitted to the brain.
Conductive hearing loss means that the passage of sound is blocked. This can be a result of physical blockages or damaged anatomical structures in the ear. As sound can’t get through the ear canal or middle ear to the cochlea in the inner ear, the way that you perceive sounds can change. You will find it difficult to hear soft sounds and louder sounds might seem muffled. Just like when you cover your ears or wear earplugs, everything can seem quieter than usual.
Despite conductive hearing loss having a number of different potential causes, this type of hearing loss can often be fixed by taking medication. It sometimes requires surgery.
Also, it is useful to know that conductive hearing loss can occur in one or both ears.
A few signs can indicate that you have conductive hearing loss, such as if you:
- Have trouble hearing conversations
- Notice differences in your hearing in each ear
- Feel pressure, pain, or discomfort in the affected ear
- Think that your own voice sounds different to usual
- Notice that when you talk to others their speech is still clear, just too quiet to hear
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss can have various causes:
- Fluid in the middle ear
- An ear infection (otitis media) or chronic infection
- Infection in the ear canal (external otitis or swimmer’s ear)
- Accumulation of earwax (cerumen) in the ear canal
- A perforated eardrum
- Eustachian tube drainage issues
- A foreign object stuck in the outer ear (often an issue with children)
- An issue with the formation of the middle or outer ear
- The presence of a growth in the middle ear (cholesteatoma) or ear canal making it narrower
- Abnormal bone growth near the middle ear (otosclerosis)
An audiologist will be able to determine the cause of your hearing loss through a comprehensive hearing test, medical examination, and discussion of your medical history.
Is Tinnitus Conductive Hearing Loss?
Tinnitus cases are usually caused by damage to the inner ear, known as sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). This type of damage occurs due to causes such as aging and loud noise exposure.
Although cases are less common, tinnitus can also arise from conductive hearing loss. You will need to discuss your symptoms with your doctor and have a medical examination to determine the likely cause of your tinnitus.
Treatment for Conductive Hearing Loss
Most cases of conductive hearing loss are temporary. This will depend on the cause of your hearing loss, but often when the underlying condition is resolved, the hearing loss goes away.
Conductive hearing loss causes can vary. This means that you might be able to get a quick diagnosis from your physician, but may be referred to an audiologist for further tests.
You’ll be asked about your symptoms and medical history before your doctor conducts a medical examination. Things they will check for include a blockage in the ear, signs of infection, and ear damage using an otoscope (a medical device used to look into the ears).
Your physician may use a Weber test or Rinne test using a tuning fork to ascertain how you hear sound. As a change in ear pressure can affect how sound is conducted, they might also check the pressure within your ear using a tympanogram to measure the mobility of the eardrum.
As mentioned, some instances of conductive hearing loss can be resolved with medication such as antibiotics (for infections), removing a foreign object stuck in the ear, or cleaning away excess earwax if your ear is impacted.
In more serious cases in which the hearing loss is permanent, you might be able to manage your symptoms with the use of a hearing aid. For example, if the functioning of the Corti organ in the cochlea is normal, the transmission of sound in the outer or middle ear can be improved by a well-fitted hearing aid.
For other types of conductive hearing loss, surgery might be needed. For example, this might be required if you have an abnormal growth in the ear. However, these medical procedures are not guaranteed to reverse the damage.
The causes and treatment options for individuals with conductive hearing loss varies. If you experience the symptoms of hearing loss (whether they occur suddenly or you’ve noticed them gradually developing over time), contact your doctor and arrange an appointment as soon as possible.
You shouldn’t wait to seek medical attention if you have hearing loss as it can lead to further health issues if left untreated. A specialist will be able to get to the bottom of your symptoms and find a solution.
For more information on hearing loss, see our other blog posts.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: