Conductive Hearing Loss

Recent hearing loss statistics reveal three to four in one thousand babies born each year are born deaf. Of the more than 28-million people in the US who have some degree of hearing loss, seventy-five percent will not seek treatment due to fear, embarrassment, or financial limitations. Of those 28-million, 2-million are completely deaf. Sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and hearing loss that is a mix of both conductive and sensorineural contribute to various degrees of deafness.

Conductive hearing loss results from injury, infection, or other problems in the outer or middle ear. Of the various forms of hearing loss, conductive loss is the most common cause of deafness. The cochlea and auditory nerve pathways to the hearing centers in the brain are functioning but sound waves are not reaching the nerves properly. The good news is that conductive hearing loss is usually a result of infection, a hole in the eardrum, obstruction by excessive earwax, or problems connected to the small bones of the middle ear. These problems often respond well to treatment or intervention. Much of the time with early diagnosis treatment can be restored through medication or surgery. For problems that are not responsive to treatment, hearing aids can greatly improve hearing for most individuals with conductive hearing loss.

Conductive hearing takes place as sound waves are directed to the ear canal and into the middle ear. As sound waves travel through the ear canal and reach the eardrum, vibrations on the eardrum occur and are transferred to the ossicles of the middle ear. These tiny bone structures then further transfer sound waves to the fluid of the inner ear where they are picked up by nerve hairs in the cochlea. Sound waves then reach the auditory nerve and are carried along the auditory pathway to the hearing centers in the brain. Any interference between the conductive centers of the outer and middle ear results in some degree of loss hearing. Most babies born deaf have a conductive hearing problem that may be linked to a genetic condition, an underlying medical problem, or an infection the mother had during pregnancy. However many times there is no easily identified reason. If no clear hearing loss causes are identified deafness due to conductive loss  is called an idiopathic deafness.

Treating any hearing loss depends on early diagnosis. In most cases, obstructions or infections involving the outer or middle ear lead to a temporary hearing loss that is resolved with treatment. However, if an infection or other medical condition that causes a temporary deafness in the conductive system is not treated it can spread to the inner ear and contribute to sensorineural hearing loss by damaging sensitive nerve hairs in the cochlea or nerve pathways to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is almost always permanent. Many adults are hard of hearing or have problems differentiating some tones or words. Conductive hearing loss can occur gradually due to environmental or lifestyle factors. Sudden hearing loss may also occur over a few hours or two to three days. Sudden hearing loss should always be evaluated immediately to rule out serious underlying medical problems as well as lessen the risk of temporary deafness becoming permanent. Sudden hearing loss is most often noticed when you first wake in the morning, or when you attempt to use one ear such as to listen to a phone conversation. The effectiveness of treating hearing loss depends on prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Conductive hearing declines with age and most adults do not seek treatment. Continued exposure to loud noises, medication, and even second-hand smoke over long periods are all examples of hearing loss causes that many do not take seriously. Even diet and exercise can influence our hearing in later years. Hearing loss is prevalent among senior adults with one out of every three people age 65 and as many as four out of five people 85 affected by some degree of deafness. Hearing loss causes older adults to feel frustrated by their inability to make out conversations, listen to radio or television, or otherwise engage in daily and social activities. Older adults simply accept loss of hearing as part of aging and do not take advantage of hearing assistance technology. If you are experiencing any loss of hearing, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions and discuss your hearing changes. Have your hearing tested and you may be pleasantly surprised to learn there is something that can be done to help improve what you are currently able to hear.