As an audiologist who has been helping people regain their hearing for over 25 years, I know that your hearing is one of the key elements in living a fulfilling life. Often hearing loss can make us feel disconnected from the world around us, making communication with our loved ones difficult, forcing us to give up our favorite hobbies like watching movies, listening to music, or chatting with friends and family.
Over 48 million Americans are affected by hearing loss and it can hinder the young and mature alike. Many Americans go untreated as progression is often slow and hard to recognize or they feel like hearing aids are not for them. Hearing tests are quick and painless and will only lead to better hearing health.
Hearing loss presents itself in three different ways: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. This post will go into detail about conductive hearing loss, but for more information on the other types of hearing loss, see What are the Different Types of Hearing Loss?
How Do We Hear a Sound?
In order to best understand conductive hearing loss, it is important to know how sound is processed by your ears and sent to your brain to be understood. When a noise is created it travels through the air via sound waves and reaches your outer ear. Your outer is shaped in a special way that sends the sound straight into your ear canal.
The sound then travels through your ear canal to your eardrum, a cone-shaped membrane that separates the middle and outer ear. When your eardrum vibrates, it activates three tiny bones in your middle ear which send the vibrations deeper into the inner ear. Your inner ear is a maze where the vibrations are converted into electrical signals.
The electrical signals next travel through the auditory nerve to your brain to be processed. This entire process from the sound reaching your outer ear to being processed by your brain only takes about 1/20th of a second. Your ears are amazing organs.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
When something blocks a noise, preventing it in reaching the inner ear, that is a conductive hearing loss. The more severe the hearing loss, the less the noise is able to freely travel through the ear, and the more unclear or muffled noises will sound to you. Many factors could contribute to this kind of hearing loss like issues with the ear canal, eardrum, or the middle ear and three tiny bones.
What Are the Signs of Conductive Hearing Loss?
If you have conductive hearing loss, noises will sound different than they did previously:
- Sounds are muffled and unclear
- Your voice sounds different
- You are constantly turning the volume up
- Conversations are hard to understand
- You may hear better from one ear
- Pain or pressure in one or both ears
What are the Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss?
Causes of conductive hearing loss can range from very simple and easily cured problems like excess earwax to extremely complex issues. Some of the causes of noises not reaching the inner ear are:
- Fluid in the middle air due to the common cold or allergies
- An ear infection
- Eustachian tube issues (this is the tube that connects the middle ear to the nose and is used for drainage)
- Perforation of the eardrum
- Benign tumors that block the middle or outer ear
- Excess earwax blocking the ear canal
- Swimmers ear (an infection of the ear canal)
- A foreign object stuck in the outer ear
- A congenital problem in the formation of the outer or middle ear
- Head trauma
What Are the Treatments for Conductive Hearing Loss?
Fortunately, the most common cause of conductive hearing loss is also an easily treatable issue: a buildup of earwax. Another common cause of this type of hearing loss is chronic ear infections or chronic middle ear fluid. These problems are also easily treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications. Other times, surgery may be the best treatment option when the cause is a more complex one such as birth defects, disfunction of middle ear structures, tumors, or malfunction of the structure of the ear due to head trauma.
Other times, when a conductive hearing loss cannot be cured with medication or surgery, we also have the ability to amplify sounds that you struggle to hear with hearing aids. There are several different types of hearing aids that are made to suit any need from bone-conduction hearing aids, surgically implanted osseointegrated devices, or conventional hearing aids.
What Are the Next Steps?
If you have any of the symptoms of a conductive hearing loss, the next step is to schedule a hearing examination as soon as possible. A hearing test is quick and painless and is typically covered by medical insurance. Adding an annual hearing test to your preventative routine is a great way to stay on top of your hearing health and ensure that you are always hearing your best.
After your examination, we will review your results as well as all of your treatment options. We at the Hearing Center of Dublin are always here to help if you ever have any questions or concerns about your hearing health. Your hearing is our number one concern. Contact us today to schedule your hearing exam.