Hearing loss is a complicated condition, with many different types and varieties. Here we explain conductive hearing loss, including its causes and treatment options.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
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.
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. This can occur in one or both ears.
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.
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
What Causes Conductive Hearing Loss?
There are 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
- A foreign object stuck in the outer ear (often an issue with children)
- 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 Common With 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.
Available Treatments 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.
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 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 vary. 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.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: