Conductive Hearing Loss: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Just as covering your ears blocks the passage of sound, so do unwanted obstructions in the outer or middle ear. The result is conductive hearing loss – a type of hearing loss that occurs due to physical damage or abnormalities in the ear canal.
If you’re suffering from conductive hearing loss, you may well have already noticed what’s stopping the sound from getting through. For some people, however, the problem is a little harder to identify.
What causes conductive hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss causes:
Conductive hearing loss can have different causes depending on which part of the ear is affected: outer or middle.
Conditions of the outer ear
- Earwax buildup and impaction
- Otitis externa (infection of the outer ear)
- Defects of the ear canal, which are usually diagnosed at birth
- Bony growths in the ear (exostoses – also known as surfer’s ear)
- Trapped moisture
- Foreign bodies lodged in the ear canal
Conditions of the middle ear
- Otitis media (infections of the middle ear)
- Damage to the eardrum, caused by injury, infection, or rapid pressure changes
- Benign growths or tumours
- Otosclerosis: a rare condition where the tiny, vibrating bones in the middle ear fuse together.
- Eustachian tube dysfunction, which can prevent fluid from draining out of the middle ear.
How is conductive hearing loss different to sensorineural hearing loss?
Difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss:
For sufferers of sensorineural hearing loss, sound is still able to pass through the outer and middle ears – but damaged nerve pathways in the inner ear prevent it from being fully interpreted by the brain.
Conductive hearing loss, however, occurs when an actual blockage prevents sound from passing through the outer and middle ear in the first place. The most common sufferers are babies, whose frequent ear infections can lead to fluid buildup or swelling, but it affects adults too.
What are the symptoms of conductive hearing loss?
If your hearing loss has gone hand in hand with pain and signs of infection, or immediately followed an injury – it’s likely to be of the conductive variety.
However, in the absence of any noticeable damage or infection, you might notice:
- Things sounding muffled and quiet
- An uncomfortable feeling of stuffiness or fullness in the ear
- Hearing loss that affects one ear only
- Odour and discoloured earwax
- An echoing amplification of your own voice or breathing.
Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, where most sufferers remain sensitive to volume, people with conductive hearing loss often find that simply turning the sound up makes a difference. Constantly reaching for the volume knob is therefore another sign that you might need to visit an ENT specialist or take a hearing test.
What are the treatment options for conductive hearing loss?
Depending on the root cause of the conductive hearing loss, medical and surgical procedures can sometimes restore proper ear function. In any case, the first step is to be assessed by your GP or an ENT specialist who can advise you of the next steps. These might be:
- Antibiotics to treat otitis media or externa
- Surgical removal of growths or tumours
- Cleaning out impacted ear wax or foreign objects
However, if conductive hearing loss occurs due to a congenital abnormality or chronic condition, it may be considered permanent. In these cases, a professionally fitted hearing aid can dramatically improve your hearing without compromising your lifestyle. Talk to a qualified audiologist about your options.