What is conductive hearing loss?

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Your ear is made up of three main parts: your outer ear, your middle ear, and your inner ear. When damage to your outer or middle ear causes hearing loss, it is called conductive hearing loss.

This type of hearing loss makes it difficult to hear low or low volume sounds. Conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

Read on to learn more about this type of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss occurs as a result of blockage or damage to the outer or middle part of your ear.

This makes it difficult for sounds to reach your inner ear, making it very difficult to listen to weak sounds.

Conductive hearing loss has several causes. Many of them are temporary and can be corrected with treatment.

Conductive hearing loss affects the way you hear sounds.

In general, people with conductive hearing loss have difficulty hearing sounds at low volumes. This can lead to increased sound on headphones or on televisions and speakers.

Additional symptoms of conductive hearing loss include:

  • sudden hearing loss
  • hearing loss that seems to get worse on a regular basis
  • pain in one or both ears
  • pressure in one or both ears
  • dizziness
  • a strange or unpleasant smell coming from your ear
  • fluid drainage from your ear

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sounds cannot reach your inner ear. It can be caused by a complication with your outer ear or middle ear.

Complications with your outer ear that cause conductive hearing loss include:

  • a small object or insect stuck in your ear canal
  • a buildup of earwax in your ear canal
  • a bone lesion that pushes your ear
  • infections of your ear canal, such as swimmer’s ear
  • fluid in the ear
  • abnormalities in the structure of your ear canal
  • narrowing of your ear canal

Complications with your middle ear that can cause conductive hearing loss include:

  • middle ear infections and fluid buildup
  • Injury to your eardrum
  • a hole in your eardrum
  • pressure in your ear that causes your eardrum to collapse
  • thickening of your eardrum
  • growths of excess skin cells in your middle ear
  • damage to the bones in your middle ear
  • an inherited disease called otosclerosis, which causes the bone in the middle ear to have an atypical structure

Hearing loss is diagnosed by a specialist called an ENT doctor.

They will ask you questions about your medical history and your hearing loss. You will have tests to determine what type of hearing loss you have and what could be the cause.

A hearing test called an audiogram is one of the first steps in diagnosing hearing loss. This test can determine if your hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or mixed. It can also determine the severity of your hearing loss.

Sometimes this test will be enough to confirm a diagnosis. When you need other tests, they can include:

  • CT, MRI, or other imaging tests. These tests allow the ENT to see the structure of your ear.
  • Tympanometry. This test measures the pressure in your middle ear and detects movement of your eardrum.
  • Acoustic reflex. An acoustic reflex test measures the movement of muscles in your ear in response to sounds.
  • Audiometric tests. You will listen to sounds and words with headphones and report what you heard for this test.
  • Static acoustic measurements. This test can detect a hole in your eardrum.

Sometimes the doctor will order additional tests, although these are more commonly done in infants. They can include an otoacoustic emissions test to detect blockages and damage to the ear or a brainstem auditory response test to see electrical responses to sounds.

Your test results will confirm the type of hearing loss you have and its cause. Your ENT doctor can discuss treatment options and next steps with you.

The treatment for conductive hearing loss depends on its cause. Some causes will go away on their own, others will require treatment, and others will be permanent.

When treatment is required, options include:

  • extraction of earwax or objects
  • antibiotics to clear infections
  • surgery to help repair damage or remove growths

When conductive hearing loss is caused by permanent structural conditions, such as a narrowed ear canal, treatment usually takes the form of a functioning hearing aid.

It can be a traditional hearing aid or a surgically implanted hearing aid. Your ENT can help you decide which option is best for you.

Conductive hearing loss has many causes. Some of them cannot be prevented and have no known risk factors.

Other causes have risk factors. They understand:

  • have frequent ear infections
  • cleaning your ears with cotton swabs, pins, or other small items that can damage the eardrum
  • to swim
  • having excess moisture in the ear for long periods of time
  • exposing your ears to water rich in bacteria

Your outlook depends on the type of conductive hearing loss you have. When your hearing loss is caused by something minor, like a buildup of earwax, it can often be resolved quickly.

The other causes of conductive hearing loss are chronic. However, devices such as hearing aids and implantable hearing aids are available and can correct your hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss is the result of damage to your outer or middle ear. It can be very difficult to hear low sounds. Some causes of conductive hearing loss are temporary and may even go away on their own.

Other causes are permanent and can be corrected with functional hearing aids. An ENT doctor can diagnose the cause of your conductive hearing loss and discuss your next steps.


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