When a sound is made, it goes through a journey to reach your brain for processing and understanding. When something is blocking that journey, preventing you from hearing that noise, this is known as conductive hearing loss.
To understand conductive hearing loss, its causes, symptoms, and treatments, we must first understand what happens to a sound in its journey to the brain.
How We Hear
Our ears are amazing and intricate organs that in 1/20th of a second from when the sound was made, can take that sound and transform it into something that our brain can discern.
When a sound or noise is created, it travels through the air to reach your outer ear. The outer ear is specially shaped to ensure that sounds are caught and then sent directly into the ear canal. As it moves through the ear canal, it makes contact with the eardrum. The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, is a membrane that divides the outer ear from the middle ear and is shaped like a wide cone.
The sound causes the membrane to vibrate, activating the three tiny bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes. These bones, also known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, are the smallest in the human body then send work together to amplify the vibration, sending it through an intricate maze to stimulate the fluid in the inner ear.
The inner ear then translates these vibrations into electrical signals that can be sent directly to your brain via the auditory nerve. The brain processes the electrical signals into information that we can understand.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
When something, typically a blockage, prevents all or some of the sound from completing its journey to the inner ear, a conductive hearing loss has occurred. Issues with the ear canal, eardrum, hammer, anvil, or stirrup can also cause conductive hearing loss. The problem can range from mild to severe, depending on how freely sound can make its journey through the ear.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Most commonly, blockage due to earwax causes conductive hearing loss, but other issues ranging from simple and easily fixed to rare and complicated can also be the contributing factor. These issues can include:
- Fluid in the middle ear
- Ear infection
- Eustachian tube problems: this is the tube that connects the nose to the middle ear for drainage
- A hole in the eardrum
- Benign tumors or cysts that block the outer or middle ear
- Excess earwax
- Infection of the inner ear: swimmer’s ear
- Malformation of the outer or middle ear
- Head trauma
- A foreign object lodged in the outer ear
Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss
Someone who is experiencing conductive hearing loss may notice a difference in the sounds they hear: noises may seem more muffled or unclear, and even the way they hear their own voice has changed. Needing to continually turn up the volume on the phone or TV or asking people to repeat themselves during conversation are common signs of hearing loss. Sounds may seem louder in one ear than the other, and some patients report pain or pressure in one or both ears.
Treatments for Conductive Hearing Loss
Most commonly, excess earwax is the culprit of conductive hearing loss, and this is easily remedied by having a professional remove it. Never try and remove earwax yourself, as you may cause damage to the ear. Other common causes include chronic ear infections or fluid in the middle ear. These issues can be treated with antifungal or antibiotic medications.
In instances of more complex causes of conductive hearing loss like congenital disabilities, dysfunction of the middle ear structures, tumors, cysts, or head trauma, surgery may be required.
Sometimes the cause of the conductive hearing loss cannot be treated. When this is the case, hearing aids can amplify the sounds that can pass through the ear canal. Conventional hearing aids, bone-conduction hearing aids, or osseointegrated devices are all used to amplify sounds.
To determine the best treatment, a hearing assessment is required. The good news is that in the majority of cases, conductive hearing loss is treatable.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms of conductive hearing loss, you must schedule a hearing assessment. Hearing tests are quick and painless and should be a part of your annual wellness routine.
After your exam, we will review your results and let you know what your treatment options are. With over 20 years of combined experience, we are dedicated to putting our patients first and making you feel comfortable and confident that you are receiving the best care catered to your unique situation.
You are not alone in your hearing health journey: as one of the leading audiologists in Louisiana, I promise that my staff and I will be here for you every step of the way. Contact us now to schedule your hearing assessment.
An Abbeville, Louisiana native, Dr. Thom realized her love for speech, language, and hearing while taking a speech pathology class her junior year at LSU. After completing a bachelor of arts in communications disorders, that love persisted, and Dr. Thom graduated in 2011 with a clinical doctorate in audiology from Louisiana Tech University. Dr. Thom continues to make sounds and language more accessible to her patients and likes to learn about their unique hearing and communication needs. An active member of the Louisiana Academy of Audiology, she has been serving as a board member for two years, and was the 2016-17 President of LAA.