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Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues people experience today. Over 48 million people live with some degree of hearing loss which reduces capacity to hear and process sound. People can experience hearing loss in various ways. There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear and is permanent whereas conductive hearing loss happens in the outer and/or middle portion of the aer and is typically temporary. Conductive hearing loss is the less common type, accounting for an estimated 1 out of 10 cases of hearing loss that people experience.
Conductive hearing loss results from obstructions in the ear which prevent sound from being fully absorbed and/or processed. The outer ear is responsible for collecting soundwaves from the environment which travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum. These are essential steps that are part of how sound is processed and understood. A few causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Swimmer’s Ear: also known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is a type of ear infection. It is typically caused by water that has stayed in the ear canal for a long period of time, causing a bacterial infection.
- Earwax: earwax that accumulates in the ear canal is known as impacted earwax. This sticky substance can block sound waves from traveling through the ear canal and reaching the inner ear which produces hearing challenges.
- Eardrum Issues: conductive hearing loss can also be caused by issues with the eardrum. This can include a perforated eardrum which describes either a tear or rupture in the eardrum. This type of damage can prevent the eardrum from propelling soundwaves further into the inner ear, a crucial step in how sound is processed.
- Foreign Objects: likely more common among kids, foriegn objects poking the ear can also produce injury that contributes to conductive hearing loss. From sticking things in the ear to bugs buzzing in the ear canal, foreign objects or creatures can be hazardous.
- Bone Growths: these types of growths which happen in the bones located in the middle ear are non cancerous but can obstruct sound from being absorbed.
Additional causes of conductive hearing loss include other types of middle ear (bacterial) infections or structural issues. These factors can disrupt the process of how sound is absorbed and processed, causing hearing loss.
Ear obstructions prevent sound from being processed how it should be. They prevent soundwaves from being absorbed and traveling through the ear to get to the inner ear where they are converted into electrical signals for the brain. There are important signs to look for that indicate conductive hearing loss including the following:
- Sounds are slurred, muffled, or distorted.
- You aren’t able to hear as well and are having difficulty following conversations,
- There’s a sense of fullness or pressure in your ears.
- You experience drainage or discharge from your ear.
- Pain, discomrto, tenderness in your ear.
- Dizziness, unsteadiness.
These symptoms can be mild or more severe, depending on the underlying cause. If you recognize any of these signs, it is important to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Fortunately, conductive hearing loss is treatable and treatment typically restores hearing. The way conductive hearing loss is treated depends on the underlying cause. The first step is to be assessed by your doctor who may then also recommend seeing a hearing health specialist like an audiologist or an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor. They can facilitate comprehensive testing that evaluates your ears as well as hearing challenges. A few treatment options include:
- Medications: your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat any viral or bacterial infection that may be causing your hearing loss. This medication clears the infection as well as symptoms, restoring hearing.
- Surgery: surgital treatment by be recommended to address a perforated eardrum, bone growth, or chronic ear infections that may be causing the conductive hearing loss.
- Earwax removal: a hearing healthcare specialist can remove earwax using different strategies that safely and thoroughly extracts earwax from the ear canal.
Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and is cleared after the underlying cause is treated. Contact us today to learn more about conductive hearing loss and the treatment options that are available to you.