Conductive hearing loss: overview and more

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Conductive hearing loss occurs when something blocks sound from reaching your inner ear.

Hearing loss affects more than 30 million adults in the United States and its severity can vary. Some people may not even realize they have hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is only a fraction of all hearing loss. Although not all forms of hearing loss can be reversed, conductive hearing loss is sometimes treatable.

This article will take a closer look at conductive hearing loss and discuss its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss

Not everyone with conductive hearing loss realizes that they have trouble hearing. Sometimes it’s family members or friends who notice that you’re watching TV at a high volume or can’t follow conversations.

You can have different degrees of conductive hearing loss, including mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss can also occur in one or both ears.

You may have conductive hearing loss if you:

  • Hear such muffled sounds
  • Having a feeling of fullness in one or both ears
  • Having fluid draining from the ear
  • Ear pain or tenderness
  • Have dizziness (but most patients with conductive hearing loss do not have dizziness)

Conductive hearing loss can also negatively impact balance, according to a 2020 study.

Other types of hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is just one type of hearing loss. Hearing loss can also be sensorineural, which is usually a permanent form of hearing loss. It can happen when the auditory nerve, the cochlea (a fluid-filled bone in the inner ear that plays an important role in hearing) or the brainstem is damaged.

You can also experience mixed hearing loss, which is when a person has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time.

There’s no way to know what kind of hearing loss you have without getting checked out by a medical professional.

causes

Conductive hearing loss can have a variety of potential causes, including:

  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Infection or allergy
  • Eardrum injury
  • Excess wax buildup and impaction
  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Ossicular discontinuity (disruption of the tiny bony chain in the middle ear)
  • Middle ear abnormalities, such as congenital auditory atresia (malformation of the ear canal present at birth)

Conductive hearing loss in children

Conductive hearing loss or hearing loss caused by a physical obstruction is more common in children, especially those who frequently suffer from ear infections. Children are also at higher risk for this type of hearing loss if they often insert objects into their ears.

Diagnostic

An in-person hearing exam is a crucial part of diagnosing conductive hearing loss.

A hearing care professional will perform tests to assess your hearing, which may include:

  • Tuning fork tests (Weber test and Rinne test)
  • A whisper test (the tester stands behind you and whispers)
  • An audiogram (your hearing is tested at a range of sound frequencies)

Your healthcare provider will also check your ear canal for any physical problems causing your hearing loss, such as:

  • Accumulation and blockage of earwax
  • Infection and swelling
  • Additional bony growths (exostosis)
  • Other abnormalities, such as tumors

Health care providers may order imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to help make a diagnosis.

They may also perform a neurological exam, as some forms of hearing loss can be caused by underlying neurological problems.

Sudden hearing loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (which is not a type of conductive hearing loss) is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Leaving sudden hearing loss untreated can lead to permanent hearing loss. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chances of preserving your hearing.

What could cause sudden hearing loss? Some possible causes include:

  • Traumatic injury to the head or eardrum
  • Drug deafness
  • Neurological conditions
  • Inner ear disorders
  • Infection

Treatment

Treatment for conductive hearing loss will depend on the cause and may include:

  • Medicines to treat infections
  • Surgery to remove sound-blocking tumors
  • Surgery to repair birth defects or repair injuries
  • Hearing aids to amplify sound and improve hearing
  • Removal of foreign bodies or excessive earwax inside the ear

Summary

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound does not reach your inner ear. This can happen for many reasons, including impaction of earwax or malformations in the ear canal.

Most cases of conductive hearing loss can be treated. Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, your healthcare provider may recommend medication, hearing aids or other hearing aids, or surgery.

A word from Verywell

It’s important to get regular hearing exams and see an ear, nose and throat (ENT, also called an ear, nose and throat) specialist or hearing professional, especially if you think you have some degree of hearing loss. Without the help of a qualified expert, it is impossible to tell for yourself what could be causing your hearing difficulties.

Since some causes of hearing loss, including conductive hearing loss, can be treated, getting the right diagnosis can help limit or reverse hearing loss.

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