What Is Conductive Hearing Loss? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Conductive hearing loss is a type of hearing loss caused by irregularities in the outer or middle ear. In this lesson we will learn about the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this type of hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Dana was plagued with chronic ear infections as a child, and her mother noticed that Dana gradually had to turn up the TV volume higher and higher in order to hear it. Her mother took her to the doctor, and the doctor told Dana she was experiencing conductive hearing loss.

What is conductive hearing loss? Well, it's a type of hearing loss specifically caused by irregularities or damage to the outer or middle ear. With this type of hearing loss, sound is unable to travel efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and small bones of the middle ear. It usually affects someone's ability to hear faint or soft noises at first.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by anything that disrupts how sound waves are able to travel through the ear.

A diagram of the ear shows the outer ear in green and the middle ear in red. Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in these two areas.

In Dana's case, her ear was damaged by chronic ear infections, most likely impacting the eardrum itself. Scar tissue to the eardrum prevented it from vibrating properly when sound waves were transmitted, and this lack of vibration prevented her from hearing certain sounds.

Other possible causes of conductive hearing loss are fluid accumulation in the middle ear, acute ear infections, allergies, a perforated eardrum, benign tumors, too much earwax, other infections, swimmer's ear, a foreign object lodged in the ear, malformation of the ear's physical structures, poor Eustachian tube function, a buildup of blood somewhere (hematoma), swelling, an eardrum retraction, or otosclerosis. Otosclerosis is a hereditary condition that causes the bones in the middle ear to fuse into a fixed position. This prevents them from vibrating in the presence of sound waves, causing hearing loss. The first signs of hearing loss in someone with otosclerosis usually appear in early adulthood.

Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss

Obviously, the most prominent symptom is hearing loss, usually with soft noises in the range of 25-65 decibels. This hearing loss may be temporary and go away on its own, like with an acute infection or buildup of earwax. It may also be gradual or appear suddenly, depending on the cause, and it may affect one or both ears. If hearing loss is due to trauma or an infection, pain may also be associated with it.

Symptoms such as ringing in the ears, vertigo, or fever can indicate a more serious problem and medical attention should be sought. For example, in addition to hearing loss, these can be symptoms of meningitis, which can be fatal if not treated quickly.

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