Sound flows like water in a river. More precisely, a narrow brook. When this brook experiences blockage at one point in the stream, the water flow is hindered. Some of the water isn’t able to reach its final destination. Sound works similarly to this. When there is a blockage at one point of the auditory processing stream, the sound isn’t able to reach your brain, or only small amounts of it will be able to get through. This “blockage” is a form of hearing loss called conductive hearing loss.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
To completely understand what conductive hearing loss is, we first have to give you a brief overview of how your ear and brain usually process the sounds you hear. Your ear is made up of three parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. Sound travels through the air, and first reaches your outer ear. This is the visible flesh part of the ear, and it serves to gather the sound vibrations in the air. Next, this sound travels to a thin film, your eardrum, before it passes through to the middle ear. Next, it moves to the inner ear where the sounds convert to electrical signals. These signals are transferred to your brain, where it works its magic processing and interpreting the sounds.
Conductive hearing loss is when sound isn’t able to pass from the outer ear and middle ear. Either something in the ear canal or middle ear blocks the noise from going through. The sound never reaches the brain, so you never actually “hear” it. Similarly to the blockage of the brook, the more blockage there is, the less sound that gets through. If the blockage is severe enough, no sound may be able to get through at all!
What Causes Conductive Hearing Loss?
There are a good number of reasons that you could be experiencing conductive hearing loss. Earwax is a significant cause of conductive hearing loss. Earwax easily builds up and can block the passage of sound going into your ear canal. A ruptured or torn eardrum is also a common cause of conductive hearing loss as well as ear infections. More potential causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Benign tumors– These tumors are not cancerous, but they do obstruct the outer or middle ear.
- Poor Eustachian tube function – The Eustachian tube connects your middle ear and your nose. This tube allows for fluids in the middle ear to drain out. If this tube, however, isn’t functioning correctly or well, the fluid can stay inside the middle ear and build up to form a blockage.
- A Foreign object stuck in the outer ear – when a foreign object gets stuck in the outer ear, it prevents sounds from passing through smoothly.
- Genetics – This is generally a problem with how the outer or inner ear was developed. This may be a deformed ear canal or a problem with the bones that make up their inner ear.
What are the Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss?
Because the ear is blocked in conductive hearing loss, soft sounds will be more challenging to hear, and loud noises may appear muffled or unclear. The overall tone of things, in general, will be different. This may include even your own voice.
This can lead to misunderstandings and inconveniences. You may find it challenging to follow along in a conversation in a noisy area or over the phone. People with conductive hearing loss can quickly become frustrated and have tendencies to isolate themselves from social environments. The enjoyable act of engaging with other people becomes a difficult task. In addition to the person who has conductive hearing loss, the other people in the conversation may give up on trying to communicate because they find it frustrating as well.
People who have conductive hearing loss often feel “out of the loop” when engaging in any activity that requires hearing. This can lead to a general decrease in mood and a feeling of detachment.
What are the Signs?
Some of the signs that you may have conductive hearing loss are very apparent, and some take time to notice. If you find that you have trouble following a conversation over the phone, you may have conductive hearing loss. We look at body language and read lips to interpret what someone is saying in face-to-face communication. We often don’t realize that we aren’t actually “hearing” what they are saying. Conversations over the phone purely require the ability to hear so they can make it apparent if you are having problems hearing. Also, if you find that you have to turn the tv up to very high volumes, it may be a sign that you have a hearing problem.
Also, if you can hear better in one ear than the other, you may be experiencing conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss also sometimes causes pain or pressure in one or both ears.
It’s Time to Get Tested
If you are experiencing any of the signs above, it is time for you to get a hearing test. The good news is that most cases of conductive hearing loss are entirely treatable. Don’t suffer the loss of your hearing when there are treatment options available. Your hearing health is vital; contact us or request a call back to schedule a hearing test so that we can help you determine if you would benefit from treatment.
Dr. Kalyn Bradford is the Director of Hearing Aid Services here at Physician’s Hearing Care. She completed her externship with Physician’s Hearing Care in 2013 and subsequently joined the practice in 2014 after graduating with her doctoral degree in audiology from Louisiana Tech University. She joined PHC as a Clinical Audiologist where she performed comprehensive audiological exams and specialized in helping patients to hear better using the latest hearing aid technology available. She has carried that experience into her current role as Director of Hearing Aid Services, where she does an excellent job managing the Audiologists to ensure that all patients are treated with the best hearing care possible.