Symptoms of conductive hearing loss
In a similar way to if you were wearing ear plugs, or covering your ears, conductive hearing loss affects the way we perceive sound levels. So you might find it sounds like everything is muffled, or just quieter than normal.
Other signs of conductive hearing loss can include:
- Trouble hearing conversations
- Difficulty perceiving quiet sounds
- Obvious differences in hearing in each ear
- A feeling of pressure or discomfort
- A difference in how your own voice sounds to you
You’ll find that speech is still clear and there’s no distortion, but it just needs to be louder for you to properly hear.
Causes of conductive hearing loss
There are a number of causes associated with conductive hearing loss which can affect the outer ear, ear canal, and middle ear.
These can include:
- A foreign body in the ear
- Impacted earwax – a build-up of earwax in the ear canal can prevent sound from properly reaching the eardrum
- Swimmer’s ear – an infection of the outer ear which can cause the ear canal to swell
- Fluid in the ear
- Ear infection
- Perforated eardrum – a tear or hole in the eardrum
- Ear malformation
- Eustachian tube dysfunction – a condition that affects the tubes connecting the ear to the throat
- Abnormal growths – uncancerous growths can sometimes develop in the ear canal, which makes it much narrower and more likely to cause obstructions
Conductive hearing loss diagnosis
Due to the variety of potential causes, conductive hearing loss might be diagnosed by either a GP or an audiologist.
They’ll ask you about your hearing loss and any other symptoms you may have, as well as your history. They will also examine your ears and check for any signs of infection, damage, or blockage in the ear using an instrument called an otoscope, which gives a very clear view inside the ear.
They might also choose to carry out some other tests like a tympanogram, which tests the pressure within the ear by measuring how mobile the eardrum is. If there is a change in the pressure, then it will affect how the sound is conducted through the ear.
Sometimes they might perform tests using a tuning fork, know as the Weber test and the Rinne test. These involve putting a tuning fork on different parts of the head or ear to assess how well the sound can be heard.
Treatment for conductive hearing loss
Most cases of conductive hearing loss are temporary and can generally be sorted out by treating the underlying condition.
For example, removing the foreign body from the ear, taking antibiotics or medication for an ear infection, or clearing away impacted earwax may be all it takes to restore hearing.
In some cases, people may benefit from wearing hearing aids to amplify the quiet sounds. There is also a surgical option for some people to treat their conductive hearing loss, for example if it is due to a growth in the ear canal.
Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss
The main difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss is that it affects different parts of the ear.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by an issue in the outer ear or middle ear that prevents sounds passing, or conducting, through the ear to where it can be processed in the inner ear. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss is due to damage of the sensory part of the ear, found in the inner ear, where the sound waves are transmitted to the brain.
Conductive hearing loss is usually mild and temporary. Often hearing can be restored with the right treatment. Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent change in hearing, but can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
Sometimes people can experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time, which is known as mixed hearing loss.
Bilateral hearing loss
Bilateral hearing loss means that there is hearing loss in both ears. This can happen gradually or you might experience a change in hearing suddenly.
Hearing loss in both ears can be either conductive, sensorineural, or a mixture of both. It’s best to see an audiologist whenever you think there is a noticeable change in both your ears. They’ll fully assess your ears and perform a number of tests to determine the type of hearing loss you may have, and they’ll be able to recommend the best treatment option to help.
Perhaps the most common cause of conductive hearing loss is due to a build-up of earwax that prevents sound from properly reaching the eardrum and inner ear.
Other common causes include:
- An infection
- A perforation (or burst ear drum)
- A temporary conductive loss due to exposure to excessive noise – for example after a concert
- A foreign body in the ear canal – which disrupts sound waves or prevents them from reaching the middle ear
- Glue ear
- A bony growth in the canal (otosclerosis)
- A build-up of skin cells near the ear drum (cholesteatoma)
- A deformed ear or ear canal
- Eustachian tube dysfunction
If conductive hearing loss is detected during a hearing check, your audiologist will talk you through your options and will most likely refer you to your GP for further tests if required
Depending on the underlying cause and treatment, conductive hearing loss can often be reversed. Your GP will discuss options with you should you be referred to them following a hearing check.
Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are different because they affect different parts of the ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is often a permanent change in hearing, due to problems with the hearing nerve or inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is usually found in both ears and is managed through the use of hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss is generally a condition in one ear but can be in both. Depending on the type of conductive loss, treatments may resolve the issue. If the conductive loss is due to earwax, many of our stores can remove this for you. Should the cause be something other than a build-up of earwax, we will refer you to your GP who will assist with a treatment plan.