How Hearing Works in the Ear
To understand what hearing conductive hearing loss is, it is important to understand how hearing works. Our hearing works by sound waves in our environment traveling from the outer ear to the middle ear to the inner ear to the brain. These sound waves travel from our outer ear, which consists of the pinna, ear canal, and eardrum to our middle ear, which consists of the eardrum and three small bones. From there, it travels to the inner ear, which houses the cochlea and nerve cells and then finally to the brain.
The auditory cells in the inner ear have tiny hair bundles known as stereocilia, and they convert sound wave vibrations into neural signals that get sent to the brain, so they can be interpreted as meaningful sound.
This auditory process is very complex and any damage to this system can cause various types of hearing loss.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an obstruction or damage in the outer or middle ear that prevents sound to be conducted to the inner ear. This differs from sensorineural hearing loss, which affects the inner ear and the auditory nerves.
This type of hearing loss can affect only one ear, which is called unilateral hearing loss, or it can affect both ears, which is called bilateral hearing loss. The severity of the hearing loss can range from mild to profound.
Those who have this type of hearing loss often have more difficulty with the loudness of sound, but not the clarity. Turning up the volume is sometimes all it takes for those with conductive hearing loss to improve their hearing. Some other symptoms of this hearing loss type is pain in or both ears, sensation of pressure in one or both ears, and difficulty in hearing conversations over the phone.
What Causes Conductive Hearing Loss?
Any factor that can affect the outer or middle ear could cause conductive hearing loss. Here are some common and possible causes:
- Malformation of outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear structure
- Fluid in the middle ear from colds
- Ear infection (otitis media – an infection of the middle ear in which an accumulation of fluid may interfere with the movement of the eardrum and ossicles)
- Poor Eustachian tube function
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
- Impacted earwax
- Foreign object in the ear
How Can We Treat Conductive Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is almost inevitable. Through the course of our lives, we are exposed to get infections, diseases and other factors that could contribute to this type of hearing loss. It is important to maintain your hearing health and see a hearing professional if you experience hearing loss.
Treatment options for conductive hearing loss can vary depending on what the cause of your hearing loss is from. Surgery could correct conductive hearing loss that is due to the congenital absence or dysfunction of ear structures, otosclerosis, and tumors. Other medical procedures and treatments can help with impacted earwax, foreign objects stuck in the ear, ear infections, and ear fluid.
Hearing aids can also be an effective treatment for those who have this type of hearing loss. Depending on the status of the hearing nerve, a normal hearing aid will do or a special bone-conduction hearing aid could be more beneficial. Bone conduction hearing aids will help amplify sounds, great for people with conductive hearing loss who have harder time with the volume of sound than the clarity.
Be sure to have your hearing tested regularly with a hearing healthcare professional. Together, you can develop an individualized plan to prevent, protect and better manage your hearing health.
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