Hearing plays a significant role in your life as a critical element of basic communication, connecting you to family, friends, neighbors and the world around you. When hearing becomes difficult, your quality of life suffers. Conductive hearing loss is a form of hearing loss brought on by a blockage or interruption of the auditory system, which prevents the processing of conversations and sounds.
The Hearing Process
To understand conductive hearing loss requires a basic understanding of the hearing process. The auditory system has three basic sections, which react with each other to transmit sounds to your brain for processing.
The function of the outer ear is to capture the sounds that your brain processes into recognizable patterns. Its design features serve to trap or gather sound waves from the air, funneling them into the ear canal. The ear canal transports or conducts gathered sound waves to the middle ear.
In the middle ear, sound waves encounter the tympanic membrane (eardrum), a cone-shaped barrier separating the outer and middle ear. Sound waves vibrate the eardrum, activating three tiny bones within the tympanic cavity and transmitting the vibrations to the inner ear.
A maze of semicircular canals and the cochlea convert the vibrations received from the middle ear into electrical signals. Auditory nerves transfer these electrical signals to the brain in a form that the brain is able to process into recognizable sound.
What Is Conductive Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves do not complete their journey from the outer ear to the brain. In other words, something obstructs or limits the conductive or transmitting functions as sound waves progress through the various components transfer it from one section of the auditory system to the next.
Conductive Hearing Loss Causes
There are several common causes related to conductive hearing loss, including:
- Ear Wax Obstruction (very common, excessive buildup of earwax in the ear canal)
- Inflammation Due to Ear Infection
- Perforation or Rupturing of the Eardrum
- Tumors or Cysts
- Diseases Affecting the Bone Structures of the Middle Ear
Conductive Hearing Loss Symptoms
The primary symptom associated with conductive hearing loss is a reduction in sound clarity. Sounds become unclear or muffled. In fact, even the sound of your own voice may seem like it is off in the distance. Symptoms might also include pain or a sensation of increased pressure in your ears.
There are issues related to symptom identification. Because we use non-verbal cues or body language in the course of conversations or when watching television, recognizing and identifying the symptoms does not happen right away. Consequently, difficulty hearing phone conversations or a need to increase the volume on the radio, in which visual cues are absent, tend to be the most notable symptoms of chronic or permanent conductive hearing loss.
How Is Conductive Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
Identifying the cause or causes associated with conductive hearing loss includes a variety of tests.
The first test involves a visual examination of the outer ear, ear canal and eardrum. In this test, an auditory professional uses an instrument with a light and a magnifying viewer called an audioscope to identify acute causes like earwax, inflammation, tumors, or cysts. An audioscope also allows for the identification of damage to the eardrum.
Most people are familiar with these tests. After isolating the examinee in a soundproof enclosure and placing headphones on his or her head, the audiologist transmits various tones at different volume levels from an audiometer into the headphones. The examinee responds to each tone, allowing the operator to determine the lowest level of hearing capacity.
After identifying hearing loss level and eliminating physical causes from a visual examination, it is necessary to identify the location of the damage and its severity. The common method for identifying damage due to conductive hearing loss is a CT scan.
Treatment Options for Conductive Hearing Loss
In most cases, routine surgery and medications are able to reverse these causes. Medications will treat conductive hearing loss caused by inflammation in most cases. Other causes might require clearing wax from the ear canal, the insertion of tubes to drain off fluid, repair of the eardrum or repair of damaged bone structures of the middle ear. A more advanced form of surgery includes a cochlear implant, bypassing the damaged structures in the middle and inner ear. Another option for chronic conductive hearing loss is the use of hearing aids, which amplify sounds and improve sound transmission throughout the auditory process.
Conductive hearing loss results from some form of obstruction, which prevents sound waves from completing their journey from the outer ear to the brain. Symptom identification and testing allows patients to identify the source of their hearing loss and obtain the necessary treatment to improve their hearing or eliminate its cause.
Contact us if you believe that you have some form of hearing loss, request a no-obligation callback from a friendly Beltone Hearing expert or schedule a free screening test.