Conductive hearing loss

What is conductive hearing loss?

Conductive hearing loss occurs when damage to the outer or middle ear or an obstruction stops sound from making its way into the inner ear. An obstruction could be a physical blockage in the middle or outer ear, or it may be a problem with the functioning of the middle ear bones. The damage or obstruction prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear, where the cochlea sends them to the brain to decipher.

Conductive Hearing Loss: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

The most common symptoms of conductive hearing loss are speech seeming muffled and difficulty hearing, especially when there is a lot of background noise. Some describe it as similar to wearing earplugs, whereby they can still hear sound generally, but it’s muffled or sounds like the people speaking to them are mumbling even when they’re not. Some people who experience conductive hearing loss also report feeling like their ears are blocked or ‘plugged’ (which can indicate a problem with the middle ear).

Other symptoms of conductive hearing loss may include:

  • Pain in the ears
  • Finding it easier to hear out of one ear
  • A feeling of pressure within the ears
  • Trouble hearing people speak over the phone
  • A change to the way people hear their own voice
  • An unusual odour originating from within the ear canal
  • A ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Any liquid draining from the ears

What causes conductive hearing loss?

There are many different things that may cause conductive hearing loss, some of the most common being ear infections, physical blockages (such as wax buildup or foreign objectives stuck in the ear), a build-up of fluid in the ear, problems with the Eustachian tube or eardrum (such as a tear), and congenital issues.

  • Ear infections, disorders and diseases can include things such as swimmer’s ear and bone-like growths known as exostoses, benign tumours, otosclerosis (a condition affecting the stapes – one of the tiny middle ear bones) or cholesteatomas (an abnormal growth of skin cells deep in the inner ear).
  • Physical blockages prevent sound from reaching the inner ear and may be caused by things like a buildup of earwax or an object pushed into the ear. This type of conductive hearing loss may not be permanent.
  • Prevention of movement of the eardrum, for example, due to fluid buildup behind the eardrum, a tear or hole in the eardrum or an imbalance in the pressure around the eardrum – these can all lead to conductive hearing loss.
  • The Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and nose, is responsible for maintaining the pressure in the middle ear by allowing fluid to drain. If this tube is blocked, a buildup of fluid and pressure can cause conductive hearing loss.
  • Some people are born with congenital disorders that may cause conductive hearing loss, such as an underdeveloped ear canal (atresia) or an abnormal narrowing of the canal (stenosis).

These are only some things that can lead to conductive hearing loss. Other possible causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Allergies
  • Narrowing of the ear canal (which, while it can be congenital, may also occur later in life)
  • Tympanosclerosis (a thickening of the eardrum)
  • Injury or trauma to the ear

Conductive vs sensorineural hearing loss

As we mentioned earlier, conductive hearing loss is just one of several types of hearing loss. The most common type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss and occurs as a result of damage to or problems with the inner ear. When it comes to conductive vs sensorineural hearing loss, conductive is less likely to be permanent than sensorineural.

Conductive hearing loss diagnosis

If you are having trouble with your hearing, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis, as the next steps, including potential treatment, will be determined by the type of hearing loss you are experiencing.

An audiogram hearing test performed by an audiologist is the first step. It will determine if your hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural or mixed and also indicate the severity of the hearing loss. 

Your audiologist may also perform other tests if they need more information. These may include MRI and CT scans to see the structure of the ear; a tympanogram, which looks at the eardrum’s movement and pressure in the middle ear; an acoustic reflex test to see how your ear muscles respond to sound; and tests to check for holes in the eardrum.

Conductive hearing loss treatment

Treatments for conductive hearing loss vary depending on the root cause. Some cases may heal on their own, while others may benefit from medical intervention. For conductive hearing loss caused by infection or other illnesses, antibiotics and other medications may be prescribed, while more serious cases may need to be addressed by surgery.

If wax buildup or objects are causing an obstruction, your doctor or specialist may perform an extraction, and in some cases, surgery may be possible to remove any growths or repair damage such as benign tumours and perforated eardrums. 

Hearing aids for conductive hearing loss

Not all conductive hearing loss is treatable – however, people with permanent conductive hearing loss may benefit from hearing aids. Hearing aids are worn behind or in the ear and help amplify sounds around the wearer, and they are a viable non-surgical solution for many people experiencing conductive hearing loss. Bay Audiology has a range of different kinds of hearing aids to suit all lifestyles, budgets and needs. Book an appointment at your local clinic to check your hearing and explore how we can help find the right hearing aid for you.  

Preventing conductive hearing loss

Although not every single cause of conductive hearing loss can be prevented, there are a few behaviours that you can adopt to reduce your chances of experiencing the condition. Be sure to keep your ears clean, drying them thoroughly after swimming and bathing. Avoid inserting foreign objects, such as cotton swabs, into your ears, too, as they could potentially cause a tear in your eardrum. If you notice any changes to your hearing, book a visit to your GP to determine its cause. 

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