Conductive Hearing Loss
What is conductive hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the ear “conducting” sound vibrations to the cochlea. Essentially, something is blocking sound waves from being effectively transmitted to the inner ear. To mimic conductive hearing loss, simply plug up your ears with your fingers. The sound waves are now being blocked (not efficiently transmitted) to the inner ear, and everything is quieter. In the simplest of terms, this is a conductive loss. A conductive hearing loss may occur in conjunction with sensorineural hearing loss or alone. Though most hearing losses are sensorineural “nerve” losses, around 10% of all hearing losses are conductive in nature. This video does a good job animating a conductive hearing loss. By the way, care to know what that weird chart to the left is all about?
What are the causes of conductive hearing loss?
There are many causes to conductive hearing loss, but the list below contains some of the most common offenders.
- Presence of a foreign object in the ear canal (i.e., impacted earwax)
- Ear infections & fluid in the middle ear usually associated with colds
- Perforated eardrum
- Swimmer’s ear
- Benign tumor growth
- Traumatic injury to the head
- Poor Eustachian tube function
- Malformation of the ear
What are the signs of a conductive hearing loss?
People with conductive hearing loss hear their own voices louder than others perceive them, and will often times speak in a softer volume. With a conductive hearing loss, speech tends to be clear enough for most people, it’s just not loud enough. On the flip side, with a sensorineural hearing loss, speech is often loud enough, but not clear enough. Most of the time an individual with a conductive loss can hear speech very clearly if it is simply louder.
What are the treatment options for conductive hearing loss?
The appropriate treatment option for a conductive loss depends on what the cause of the loss is. If the loss is a result of (for instance) a congenital birth defect where the ear canal did not open or there was some other malformation to the outer, ear canal, or middle ear, then a bone conduction hearing aid may be appropriate. This device converts sound to vibrations that are sent to the inner ear through the bone, bypassing any blockage in the outer or middle ear. Another common cause of conductive hearing loss is Otosclerosis, which is genetic in nature. With Otosclerosis, one of the tiny bones in the middle ear is fixated and cannot move, so sound cannot be effectively transmitted to the middle ear. A common procedure to fix Otosclerosis is a Stapedectomy, in which the Stapes bone is replaced with a prosthesis that can freely move in concert with the other bones of the middle ear and transmit sound vibrations. If the reason for a conductive loss is an ear infection or fluid in the middle ear, the eardrum will typically be perforated by a physician to allow for drainage. During this time, the patient will have a conductive hearing loss, but when their condition is cured, the ear drum will be patched and normal hearing will return. Here is a good video overview of perforated eardrums. For many people that have a conductive hearing loss that can’t be operated on, traditional hearing aids or bone conduction hearing aids are generally a good option. As shown in the audiogram above, a conductive hearing loss is often a “flat loss”, meaning the loss is the same at all frequencies, and hearing aids are particularly well suited to amplifying sound in this way.
If you suspect you have a conductive hearing loss, your best course of action is to see an ear nose & throat doctor immediately. Don’t even go to an independent hearing aid dispenser or audiologist, as they will need to refer you to a physician any way.
If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.