Is Conductive Hearing Loss Permanent?
Is Conductive Hearing Loss Reversible?
At a high level, hearing loss can be categorized as either conductive or sensorineural. Today, we're going to discuss the former—namely, how it can be treated and reversed. Because although there are many types of permanent hearing impairment, conductive hearing loss generally isn't one of them.
To understand why you must first understand a bit about what conductive hearing loss is and how it works.
What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss, as one might expect from the name, refers to any condition in which sound is in some way impeded from reaching the inner ear. A blockage in the outer or middle ear interferes with sound conduction. Typically, this causes all sounds to seem muffled.
Other symptoms of conductive hearing loss include:
- Aural pain or pressure
- Feeling of 'fullness' in the ear
- Fluid discharge from the ear
How is Conductive Hearing Loss Different From Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss differ from one another in a few key ways. While conductive hearing loss is generally the result of impaired sound conduction, sensorineural hearing loss results from issues with the inner ear or auditory nerve. Presbycusis is one of the most common forms of sensorineural hearing loss. It occurs as the stereocilia within the cochlea degrade with age, impairing their capacity to convert sound into electrical signals for the auditory nerve.
Sensorineural hearing loss also manifests differently from conductive hearing loss; someone experiencing hearing impairment related to the condition typically has trouble hearing sounds within a particular range or frequency. Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent. With current medical technology, damage to the inner ear is generally irreversible.
Finally, conductive hearing loss tends to occur suddenly and without warning, while sensorineural hearing loss is usually gradual. It's important to note that this is not always the case. It's also important to understand that there are some situations where an individual may simultaneously experience sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss, a condition known as mixed hearing loss.
What Causes Conductive Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss is usually the result of a physical blockage of some kind. It may also be caused by an ear infection or physical trauma. The most common causes include:
- Cerumen impaction resulting from excessive buildup of earwax.
- An ear infection, either in the outer ear (Otitis Externa) or the middle ear (Otitis Media).
- A ruptured eardrum. While this can occasionally be caused by exposure to traumatic noise, it may also be due to infection or because someone stuck something in their ear that they shouldn't have.
- Otosclerosis, a condition in which the ossicles harden and become unable to conduct sound properly.
- Damage to the ossicles.
- Abnormal growths. This may include skin buildup from dermatitis or tumors within the ear.
Conductive hearing loss may also be the result of genetic or congenital factors such as a malformed ear canal. In the absence of corrective surgery, impairment stemming from this form of hearing loss is permanent. Although damaged or deformed ossicles rarely heal on their own, they can typically be repaired or replaced through corrective surgery.
How is Conductive Hearing Loss Treated?
The good news about conductive hearing loss is that it's incredibly easy to treat in most cases. Your first step should be to pay a visit to your doctor or audiologist. Do not try to diagnose or correct your hearing loss on your own; there's a very good chance you'll simply make things worse.
After performing an examination, your doctor will determine the best course of treatment based on your symptoms. In some cases, they may simply flush the blockage out of your ear. They may also prescribe oral medication or medicated cream.
Only in rare cases will a doctor recommend surgery for conductive hearing loss—it's simply unnecessary for the vast majority of cases.
How Can I Prevent Conductive Hearing Loss?
The best advice we can offer in regards to conductive hearing loss is to avoid sticking anything into your ear — especially Q-Tips. Seriously, just don't do it—at best, you may increase your chance of infection or cerumen infection. At worst, you could be looking at a ruptured eardrum.
Beyond that, simply get enough sleep, eat properly, and schedule regular hearing exams with your audiologist. Everything else should sort itself out in due course.