Conductive hearing loss is very common and occurs when sound waves can’t make it through the middle and outer ear. Often this type of hearing loss is a mechanical problem where sound vibrations are blocked or reduced. It’s important to seek testing and treatment early, as a conductive loss can be improved with medicine or surgery.
What Causes Conductive Hearing Loss?
Because distinct types of hearing loss affect different parts of the ear or auditory system, conductive often results from diseases in the external or middle ear. All sounds gradually sound fainter or muffled, and hearing becomes even worse in lower frequencies.
Conduction deafness happens when sound waves can’t make it through the external ear canal to the bones found near the middle ear.
The blockage can usually be easily removed to allow sound vibrations to trigger your hearing once again, but more serious conditions may require more extensive treatment and surgery.
Some problems, such as structural malformations of the ear canal, can be noted at birth. Others can become serious if left untreated for a significant period of time.
Common issues causing trouble with the external ear canal differ in severity and can include:
- Ear wax build-up, which can be found and removed quickly by a doctor.
- Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, may happen when water exposure leads to an infection in the ear canal causing pain and tenderness, sometimes severe swelling.
- Foreign object lodged in the ear canal, usually small toys in children or cotton from Q-tips in adults, that a doctor can easily clear in office.
- Bony lesions in the ear canal are benign growths of bone that result in a narrowing ear canal and leads to frequent blockage from even tiny amounts of water or ear wax. Often, lesions are manageable with cleaning, but they sometimes require surgical removal.
- Atresia relates to a malformation of the external ear canal and sometimes the outer ear as well. This condition is usually noted at birth and usually only affects one ear, but surgical treatment may be needed to reconstruct the ear canal or implant a hearing device to help directly vibrate the bone of the ear and allow you to hear.
Common problems with the middle ear include:
- Like swimmer’s ear, middle ear fluid or infection takes place when fluid takes over. Otitis media, as it’s called, is divided up based on how serious the case and often affects both children and adults. Medication and ear tubes are often all that’s needed to help since the fluid is often related to allergies. Chronic cases, though, may cause damage to the eardrum and require surgery.
- Collapse of the eardrum happens with pressure behind the eardrum causes it to collapse onto the middle ear bone. Severe cases may require surgery to reconstruct the eardrum called tympanoplasty.
- Hole in the eardrum caused by infection or trauma, which often requires outpatient surgery to fix.
- Cholesteatoma from trauma or infection is a retracted eardrum that requires surgery to reconstruct the middle ear ossicles to restore hearing.
- Otosclerosis is a genetic disease where the bone hardens and the parts of the ear that are supposed to vibrate no longer do. A hearing loss like this progresses slowly and beings in early adulthood, affecting more women than men. Hearing aids or surgery is often needed.
Testing for Conductive Hearing Loss
Physicians can perform a simple test using a tuning fork to tell if you have conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. Formal audiogram tests are traditional hearing tests that are also administered as the best way to determine the degree and types of hearing loss.
A diagnosis won’t usually be administered until you’ve gone over a detailed history of your health, multiple examinations of your ear, nose, throat, and neck, and other detailed hearing tests are performed. Children may require a more thorough examination process.
In some cases, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist also called an otolaryngologist will be involved in determining your diagnosis and administering treatment options, sometimes surgical if needed. Severe cases may call for an MRI scan to identify cases like cholesteatoma.
Treatment can Restore Conductive Hearing Loss
Conduction deafness is usually not serious, and hearing can typically be restored.
Most cases of conductive hearing loss can be treated with conventional hearing aids. Implantable hearing devices are also available for certain types of hearing loss, which will be determined by talking to your otolaryngologist.
Hearing impaired children may need to go through speech and language therapy, especially if their hearing loss occurs at an early age because these are important development years. Any difficulty in hearing can easily cause a delay in learning, and a speech therapist may help.