There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Conductive hearing loss means there is something physically and structurally wrong with the outer and middle ear, which prevents sound from reaching the inner ear. In short, conductive hearing loss means your ear cannot conduct sound properly.(1)
Hearing loss can be a confusing and embarrassing area of conversation: especially if you don’t know how to explain your hearing loss diagnosis.
So here’s your guide to everything you need to know about conductive hearing loss.
What are the causes of conductive hearing loss?
There are many causes of conductive hearing loss, with the most common being the following:
This is perhaps the most common cause of conductive hearing loss. Earwax protects the ear from bacteria and fungi infections. However, earwax can also physically block the ear canal, preventing sound from reaching the eardrum.
Another common cause of conductive hearing loss, fluid build-up in the middle ear can prevent sound transmission from your eardrum to the inner ear. When the ear cannot drain fluid from the Eustachian tube — a canal connecting the ear to the throat — fluid may build up in the middle ear.
Fluid may also build up in the middle ear after a cold or an ear infection. It’s quite common for the infection to cause the ear canal to swell, blocking sound from reaching the eardrum.
Ear canal blockage
Sometimes foreign objects, such as insects or debris from water during swimming, can enter the ear canal and block sound transmission.
Occasionally, abnormal skin growths called cholesteatoma can also cause ear canal blockages. These are commonly present at birth, but they can also develop from repeated ear infections.
Infections and traumas can cause perforation or collapse of the eardrum.
Malformation of the ear
Congenital abnormal development can lead to structural defects of the outer and middle ears that lead to conductive hearing loss in children.
Ear structure can naturally degrade in the elderly over time and prevent hearing properly.
The hardening of the middle ear structure, or otosclerosis, affects about 1% of the population. Surgery can usually correct this condition; you can find more information on this further down the article.
Treatments of conductive hearing loss
The management of conductive hearing loss depends on the causes(1)
Earwax or foreign object removal
If you have a hearing problem because of a foreign object blocking your ear, it’s important to seek emergency care as soon as possible, and to not attempt to remove the object yourself, as this can cause further damage.
If you have a build up of earwax blocking the ear canal, the safest and easiest way to get rid of this is to visit a professional. Several Specsavers stores now offer earwax removal by our hearing professionals, so they’ll be able to help with removal, and any further questions you may have.
If the problem of conductive hearing loss is due to infections, your doctor can provide antibiotics. The fluid build-up will usually resolve once the inflammation from the infection subsides.(2)
If an ear infection is a chronic and recurrent problem, which often happens in children, a myringotomy, a type of ear surgery, is usually warranted. During myringotomy, the doctor inserts a tympanostomy tube (also known as PE tube) across the eardrum. The PE tube allows fluid drainage from the middle ear into the ear canal, preventing fluid build-up from future infections or other problems.
Another condition that surgery can correct is otosclerosis. The surgical procedure to correct this type of problem is called stapedectomy, which fixes the hardened middle ear structure and allows it to move freely again. However, there are small risks of eardrum perforation or permanent hearing loss with this procedure.(4)
If the methods above cannot correct conductive hearing loss, hearings aids can be a solution.5 Hearing aids help conductive hearing loss by conducting sound directly into the inner ear via vibration through the bones or by amplifying sound through the ear canal. In fact, even mild hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids.
The evaluation process for hearing aids begins with a hearing test, which is free at Specsavers. The hearing test measures many aspects of hearing loss, such as the sound frequencies affected by and the severity of hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids have dramatically improved as technologies advance, including features such as only amplifying the sounds you want to hear during a conversation, automatic adjustment to the hearing settings you prefer at home and outside of your house, and direct sound input from electronics such as TV, stereo, telephone, or computers.
Consequently, they’re not the bulky, embarrassing devices we might think they are. In fact, modern hearing aids are sleek and discreet. If you’re interested to learn more about hearing loss and how Specsavers can help, you can discover more content like this in our dedicated hearing loss resource.
1. Weber PC. Etiology of hearing loss in adults - UpToDate. Published October 30, 2018. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/etiology-of-hearing-loss-in-adults?source=history_widget#H40. Accessed June 9, 2019.
2. Limb CJ. Acute otitis media in adults - UpToDate. Published June 7, 2019. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-otitis-media-in-adults?search=ear%20infection&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H20. Accessed June 9, 2019.
3. Glasscock ME, Storper IS, Haynes DS, Bohrer PS. Twenty-five years of experience with stapedectomy. Laryngoscope. 1995;105(9 Pt 1):899-904. doi:10.1288/00005537-199509000-00005
4. Weber PC. Hearing amplification in adults - UpToDate. Published May 2, 2018. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hearing-amplification-in-adults?search=hearing%20aids&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~66&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H3. Accessed June 9, 2019.