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What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

Conductive Hearing Loss

Contrary to common perception, hearing loss can occur at any age. Untreated hearing loss can strain verbal communication and impact your overall health and well-being.   

Different types of hearing loss and levels of impairment may affect you differently and will require distinct treatment approaches. Seeking a diagnosis and understanding your type of hearing loss will help you feel more confident and make the right choices for yourself and your loved ones. 

Hearing loss refers to a partial or total inability to hear. It can result from problems with the inner, middle or outer ear, the auditory nerve or system. 

 

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive
  • Sensorineural
  • Mixed hearing loss 

The latter is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. 

To set you off on your journey to better hearing health, we’ll discuss the two main types of hearing loss in this two-part series. This is the second part: What is conductive hearing loss? What are the symptoms, how is it diagnosed and treated? 

What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

To better understand the causes of conductive hearing loss, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of your ear. Many components have to work together to ensure normal hearing. 

Your ear consists of three sections, the outer, middle, and inner ear. Issues resulting in hearing loss may occur in any one of those parts. 

Conductive hearing loss (CHL) is a hearing impairment that occurs when damage to the outer ear or middle ear prevents sound vibrations from reaching the inner ear. Depending on the cause, conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent.

 

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are issues transferring sound from the outer ear through the tympanic membrane to the middle ear. The cause for a hearing impairment can lie in any one of those structural parts. 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) occurs when a problem with either the inner ear or the auditory nerve prevents or weakens the nerve signals sent to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent hearing loss. 

For more information on sensorineural hearing loss, click here

If a conductive hearing loss occurs in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss, it is a mixed hearing loss. 

mixed hearing loss

Degrees of Conductive Hearing Loss

Audiologists classify various conductive hearing loss by degrees:

Mild CHLHearing loss between 26 to 40 decibels.
  • One-on-one conversations may not be problematic until there’s background noise.
Moderate CHLHearing loss between 41 to 55 decibels.
  • One-on-one conversations become a challenge.
  • Those with moderate hearing loss may ask people to repeat themselves a lot, both in in-person exchanges and on the phone.
Severe CHLHearing loss between sounds above 71 decibels.
  • Any conversation becomes impossible without a hearing aid.
  • Those with profound hearing loss can only hear people if they shout or speak with a raised voice.
  • Hearing aids or cochlear implants ensure people with profound hearing loss can participate in everyday life.

Hough Ear Institute

Image source: Hough Ear Institute

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss 

Leading causes of conductive hearing loss range from physical blockages to allergies, ruptured eardrums and earwax build up. 

Conductive hearing loss is, in fact, most common in toddlers and young children with recurrent ear infections or who tend to insert foreign objects into their ears. 

Common causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Ear infections or otitis media. 

Ear infections may cause a temporary hearing loss due to inflammation and fluid buildup in the area behind the eardrum.

  • Swimmer’s Ear.

An infection in the ear canal is commonly found in swimmers and surfers due to frequent exposure to water. As fluids build up and the tissues swell, the ear may feel clogged, and sounds become muffled.

  • Poor Eustachian tube function. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear and nose to allow fluid to drain. If the tube doesn’t function correctly, perhaps because the tube’s lining is swollen or does not open or close properly. In that case, fluid can accumulate and result in muffled hearing, tinnitus, a feeling of fullness in the ear and pain.
  • A hole in the eardrum.

Holes in the eardrum can result from ear infections and trauma, changes in air pressure, and sudden, very loud noise (e.g. in an explosion). The eardrum may also be injured by poking an object too deep into the ear. 

  • Blockage caused by earwax.

Earwax impaction is a common cause of conductive hearing loss. As wax builds up over time, it can become stuck in place and turn into a sound barrier that prevents you from hearing as you usually would.

  • Allergies.

Allergens cause histamine release in the body. These histamines trigger an allergic response that often includes sneezing, itching and congestion, and an increase in mucus production. The accumulation of fluid in your middle ear may block sounds from travelling to the cochlea and can cause a temporary hearing loss. 

  • Foreign objects.

A foreign object stuck in the outer ear can cause temporary hearing loss. 

  • Benign tumours. 

Acoustic neuromas are benign tumours of the hearing or balance organs that can block the outer or middle ear or apply pressure on the hearing nerve. 

  • Structural defects.

Congenital disabilities can cause deformations of the outer or middle ear. Some people may be born without an outer ear, have deformed ear canals or issues with the bones of the middle ear.

Hearing Loss Symptoms

Conductive Hearing Loss Symptoms

Depending on the underlying cause, the signs and symptoms of conductive hearing loss can be subtle at first. Conditions like fluid buildup or ear wax are often not noticed until the hearing loss has become very pronounced and medical attention is sought. 

With conductive hearing loss, it is common to experience a “plugged” sensation of the ears. Speech often sounds muffled, particularly in challenging situations with plenty of background noise. 

Look out for the following symptoms of conductive hearing loss:

  • Muffled hearing
  • Gradual loss of hearing
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Fluid drainage from the ear
  • The feeling of “full” ears
  • Dizziness 
  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Feeling of pressure in one or both ears
  • An unusual or unpleasant smell coming from the ear
  • Liquid drainage of the ear

Hearing Loss Treatment

Conductive Hearing Loss Treatment 

Depending upon the severity and nature of the impairment, many cases of conductive hearing loss are reversible through medical or surgical intervention. 

In cases of permanent hearing loss, amplification devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants may be used to help you hear normally again. 

Understanding your options for the medical treatment of conductive hearing loss will hopefully have you seek support sooner than later. 

Depending on the cause of hearing loss, the more time passes between the first indication of hearing loss to the point at which you seek medical attention, the higher the chances of any impairment becoming permanent or worsening over time. 

If you have any questions about conductive hearing loss or wish to have your hearing tested by an accredited hearing health professional, give the friendly and knowledgeable team at Attune Hearing a call at 1300 736 702 or make an appointment online.

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