What Is Conductive Hearing Loss?

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Conductive hearing loss happens when something blocks sound from getting to your inner ear. 

Hearing loss affects over 30 million adults in the United States, and it can vary in severity. Some people may not even realize they have hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss only accounts for a portion of all hearing loss. While not all forms of hearing loss can be reversed, conductive hearing loss is sometimes treatable.

This article will take a closer look at conductive hearing loss and examine its causes, diagnosis, and treatment. 

Man gets ear checked for causes of conductive hearing loss

Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

Conductive Hearing Loss Symptoms

Not everyone with conductive hearing loss will realize they have trouble hearing. Sometimes, family members or friends are the ones to notice that you’re watching TV at a high volume or aren’t able to follow conversations.

You can have different degrees of conductive hearing loss, including mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss can also occur in one or both ears. 

You might have conductive hearing loss if you:

  • Hear sounds as muffled
  • Have a feeling of fullness in one or both ears
  • Have fluid draining from the ear
  • Experience ear pain or tenderness
  • Experience dizziness (but most patients with conductive hearing loss do not have dizziness)

According to one 2020 study, conductive hearing loss may also negatively impact balance. 

Other Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is just one type of hearing loss. Hearing loss can also be sensorineural, which is usually a permanent form of hearing loss. It can happen when there’s damage to your auditory nerve, cochlea (a fluid-filled bone in the inner ear that plays an important role in hearing), or brain stem.

You can also experience mixed hearing loss, which is when a person has conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously.

There's no way to tell which kind of hearing loss you have without getting an exam from a medical professional.

Causes

Conductive hearing loss can have various potential causes, including:

  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Infection or allergies
  • Eardrum injury
  • Excessive wax buildup and impaction
  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Ossicular discontinuity (disruption of the tiny bone chain in the middle ear)
  • Middle ear abnormalities, such as congenital aural atresia (malformation of the ear canal present at birth)

Conductive Hearing Loss in Children

Conductive hearing loss or hearing loss caused by physical obstruction is most common in children, especially those who experience frequent ear infections. Children are also at higher risk for this type of hearing loss if they often insert things into their ears.

Diagnosis

An in-person hearing exam is a crucial part of diagnosing conductive hearing loss. 

A hearing professional will perform tests to evaluate your hearing, which may include:

  • Tuning fork tests (Weber test and Rinne test)
  • A whisper test (the tester stands behind you and whispers)
  • An audiogram (your hearing is tested at a range of sound frequencies)

Your healthcare provider will also check your ear canal for potential physical issues causing your hearing loss, like:

  • Ear wax buildup and blockage
  • Infection and swelling
  • Extra bone growths (exostosis)
  • Other abnormalities, such as tumors 

Healthcare providers may request imaging tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to help make a diagnosis. 

They may also perform a neurological exam since some forms of hearing loss may be caused by underlying neurological issues. 

Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (which is not a type of conductive hearing loss) is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Leaving sudden hearing loss untreated can result in permanent hearing loss. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chances are of preserving your hearing.

What might be causing sudden deafness? A few possible causes include:

  • Traumatic injury to the head or eardrum
  • Medication-induced deafness
  • Neurological conditions
  • Inner ear disorders
  • Infection

Treatment 

Treatment for conductive hearing loss will depend on the cause and may include:

  • Medications to treat infections 
  • Surgery to remove tumors blocking sound
  • Surgery to fix congenital malformations or repair injuries
  • Hearing aids to amplify sound and improve hearing 
  • Removal of foreign objects or excessive wax from inside the ear

Summary

Conductive hearing loss happens when sound can’t get to your inner ear. This can happen for many reasons, including ear wax impaction or malformations in the ear canal. 

Most cases of conductive hearing loss are treatable. Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, your healthcare provider may recommend medication, hearing aids or other hearing devices, or surgery. 

A Word From Verywell

It’s important to get regular hearing exams and see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT, also called an otolaryngologist) or hearing professional, especially if you think you have some degree of hearing loss. Without the help of a qualified expert, it’s impossible to tell on your own what might be causing your hearing difficulties. 

Since some causes of hearing loss, including conductive hearing loss, are treatable, getting the proper diagnosis can help limit or reverse hearing loss.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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