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Conductive Hearing Loss

Last updated Aug. 14, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Conductive Hearing Loss (or Conductive Deafness) is a type of hearing loss that results from a problem in the outer ear or middle ear.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Conductive Deafness
  • Transmission Deafness

What is Conductive Hearing Loss? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Conductive Hearing Loss (or Conductive Deafness) is a type of hearing loss that results from a problem in the outer ear or middle ear
  • It may be due to an obstruction that prevents the sound from reaching the inner ear. The inner ear is responsible for converting incoming sounds to electrical signals, for the brain to process and interpret
  • Conductive Hearing Loss is often a temporary disorder. It can be treated with medication or surgery, unlike sensorineural hearing loss, which is usually a permanent and irreversible disorder
  • Most cases of Conductive Hearing Loss have an excellent prognosis

Who gets Conductive Hearing Loss? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Conductive Hearing Loss may occur at any age
  • Both males and females can be equally affected

What are the Risk Factors for Conductive Hearing Loss? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors of Conductive Hearing Loss are:

  • Middle ear infections
  • Trauma to the tympanic membrane (eardrum)
  • Foreign body impaction (blockage) in the external canal

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss? (Etiology)

The causes of Conductive Hearing Loss may include:

  • Buildup of earwax in the ear canal
  • Presence of fluid in the middle ear from colds
  • Otitis externa - an infection of the outer ear
  • Otitis media - an infection of the middle ear
  • Allergies
  • Perforated tympanic membrane - hole in the eardrum
  • Cholesteatoma - the presence of a mass in the middle ear
  • Otosclerosis - overgrowth of bone near the middle ear
  • Glomus tumor - a benign tumor of the middle ear
  • Paget’s disease of the bone
  • Any foreign body in the ear
  • Head trauma

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss?

The signs and symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss may include:

  • Difficulty hearing
  • Some sounds sound too soft
  • Difficulty following conversations
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy areas
  • Other people’s speech sound mumbled or slurred
  • Frequently asking other individuals to repeat what they are saying

How is Conductive Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

A hearing loss is diagnosed based on the individual’s history, behavior, physical exam, and audiological (hearing) exam. The physician or audiologist may order a variety of tests for Conductive Hearing Loss, which may include:

  • Otoscopy: Examination using an instrument that allows the physician to look inside the ear
  • Weber test: A test in which a vibrating tuning fork is placed on the midline of the head
  • Rinne test: A test in which a vibrating tuning fork is held next to the ear and then in front of the ear, until the individual no longer hears the sound
  • Audiometric test: Hearing tests that involve listening to different tones
  • Tympanometry: A test that puts air pressure in the ear canal in order to move the eardrum, and then measures the eardrum mobility (movement)
  • Acoustic reflex: A test that stimulates the stapedius (a tiny ear muscle) to move, in response to a loud sound
  • Static acoustic measures: A test that measures the amount of air in the ear canal
  • CT scan or MRI scan of the head
  • Auditory brainstem response: A test that places electrodes on the scalp and measures the electrical response of the brain to sounds
  • Otoacoustic emissions: A test in which a tiny microphone is placed in the ear, plays sounds, and measures the signals produced by the inner ear

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Conductive Hearing Loss?

The complications of Conductive Hearing Loss may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal from social interactions

How is Conductive Hearing Loss Treated?

A treatment of Conductive Hearing Loss may include the following:

  • Acute ear infections (that are sudden, severe, and short-term) are usually treated with antibiotics
  • Chronic ear infections (that are long-term) may be treated with ear tubes. Ear tubes are plastic tubes placed through the eardrum, in order to allow air into the middle ear and drain the fluid from the middle ear. They help prevent a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, in the future
  • Conditions, such as otosclerosis, tympanic membrane perforation, glomus tumor, and cholesteatoma, may be corrected using surgical measures
  • If the hearing loss cannot be treated medically or surgically, the condition may become permanent. In such cases, the individual may benefit from middle ear implants or the use of hearing aids

How can Conductive Hearing Loss be Prevented?

  • Many cases of Conductive Hearing Loss are caused by the build-up of earwax in the ear canal. Therefore, this can be prevented by keeping the ears clean
  • Otitis media (idle ear infection) can be prevented by wearing earplugs, swimming caps, or drying the ears with a towel, after swimming. Several studies have found that there are some specific measures to help reduce a child’s risk of otitis media. These include:
    • Frequent washing of hands
    • Avoiding bottle-feeding while lying down
    • Breastfeeding the baby for at least the first six months
    • Limiting his/her exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental factors that might trigger allergic reactions

However, some causal factors of Conductive Hearing Loss, such as otosclerosis and Paget’s disease of the bone, cannot be prevented.

What is the Prognosis of Conductive Hearing Loss? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • A majority of the individuals with Conductive Hearing Loss are able to fully recover and the prognosis is excellent in such cases
  • Conductive Hearing Loss is a temporary condition and it has a better prognosis than sensorineural hearing loss, which is typically a permanent, irreversible condition

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Conductive Hearing Loss:

  • According to the World Health Organization, there are around 360 million people (representing over 5% of the world’s population), with some form of hearing loss
  • 9 out of every 10 children, who are born deaf, are born to parents, with a good hearing sense
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that results from a problem in the inner ear. Most cases of sensorineural hearing loss are irreversible (permanent) and associated with a poor prognosis

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 25, 2014
Last updated: Aug. 14, 2018