What is conductive hearing loss?

There are 4 main types of hearing loss. It’s important to distinguish between them because each type will have a different impact and will require different treatment options.  As the name suggests, conductive hearing loss indicates some sort of blockage or damage that prevents sound travelling to the inner ear. 

Conductive hearing loss can affect anyone but it is not as common as certain other types of hearing loss. The good news is it’s also usually the easiest to treat. However, as with all types of hearing loss you need to treat conductive hearing loss seriously. Untreated hearing loss can have a significant impact on your life and some forms of conductive hearing loss can cause permanent damage if left untreated.

Symptoms of conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss may cause partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears. Conductive hearing loss may occur suddenly or the onset of symptoms may be quite slow. The symptoms may be temporary and in some cases will resolve themselves naturally. But you should always ask your hearing professional to check out any hearing loss.

There are some particular symptoms that may indicate that your hearing loss is the result of a conductive hearing issue. These include:

  • Pain or pressure in your ear/s
  • Balance problems
  • Noises sound muffled
  • Your voice might sound unusual
  • Fluid (often smelly) coming from the ear

The more common sensorineural hearing loss tends to affect specific pitches so that you struggle with particular sounds such as voices and consonants. Conductive hearing loss, on the other hand, tends to make all sounds muffled. Sensorineural hearing loss tends to be more gradual, although in some cases, such as SSHL (Sudden sensorineural hearing loss), the loss of hearing may be very dramatic.

Some people experience a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This is known as mixed hearing loss and the atypical symptoms can make it more challenging to identify the correct diagnosis and treatment. This is why a regular hearing test is so important. Your hearing professional will be able to quickly identify whether the issue is a conductive hearing problem or sensorineural in nature.

What causes conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs in either the outer ear or the middle ear. There are many possible reasons why conductive hearing loss may occur.

Conductive hearing problems in the outer ear are usually caused by:

  • Excessive earwax buildup
  • Otitis externa or other ear infections
  • Foreign objects in the ear
  • Abnormal growths in the ear

Problems in the outer ear are the most common causes of conductive hearing loss. Problems in the middle ear that may cause conductive hearing loss include:

  • Ear infections (otitis media)
  • Burst eardrums (infection or trauma)
  • Abnormal growths or tumours
  • Damage to middle ear bones
  • Otosclerosis—hardened middle ear bones

There are also some congenital conditions that may cause conductive hearing loss. These usually take the form of malformations of the ear such as stenosis or microtia.

Is conductive hearing loss permanent?

In most cases the correct treatment will fully restore your hearing. Even in apparently severe situations, such as a burst eardrum, most people will regain all or nearly all of their hearing. Naturally, this will depend on the severity of the damage.

It can be tempting, when dealing with seemingly minor problems like earwax buildup or ear infections, to treat them yourself. But we always recommend that you see a hearing professional or your doctor whenever you experience pain or discomfort in your ears or any hearing loss.

 Some of the common self-treatment choices such as attempting to remove earwax with cotton buds or Q-tips may push the blockage further into the ear or even damage the eardrum. Removing earwax is a job best left to your hearing professional

Likewise, leaving some of these conditions untreated may cause permanent damage or hearing loss. Frequent untreated ear infections may cause scarring that can permanently affect your hearing. And some of the bone related conditions may also lead to a permanent reduction in hearing ability. 

But in all cases a visit to your doctor or hearing professional will quickly identify the problem and identify the best solutions.

Is there a treatment?

The good news is that most types of conductive hearing loss can be easily treated with medicines or through surgery.

Ear infections are usually easily treated but prompt action is always advisable. A course of antibiotics will quickly clear up most infections. Be careful about using home remedies to treat ear infections, especially if they recur frequently or are persistent. Chronic ear infections may cause permanent hearing loss. Likewise, it is best to let a professional remove earwax.

Ruptured ear drums will frequently heal themselves but it will take about 2 months. The damage may be severe enough to warrant some surgical intervention. In most cases, damage to the hearing will not result in permanent total hearing loss and any hearing loss is usually restricted to one ear.

A range of surgical operations are available to rectify bone growth abnormalities. In the case of otosclerosis there is a specialised operation known as a stapedectomy and this can be very effective. There may be other options too that your hearing professional will discuss with you.

There are also hearing aids designed for conductive hearing loss that will allow you to regain a large part of your hearing. These are known as bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA) and they transmit sound through the skull bones to the inner ear.

If you are experiencing pain, discomfort or hearing loss, visit a hearing professional. Your hearing problem may seem daunting but talk to one of our friendly hearing professionals and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly we can help resolve the issue.