Is Yours Sensorineural or Conductive Hearing Loss?

There is a big difference between sensorineural and ‘conductive hearing loss’ and it helps to understand the differences and what this means for the treatment of a person’s impairment and how they may be helped.

As a neurotologist, it really is upsetting to see these kids coming in younger and younger with a completely preventable hearing loss. – Jennifer Derebery

Table of Content

1. So What is Conductive Hearing Loss?
2. How About Problems With The Eardrum?
3. So What are The Differences?
4. What Causes The Impairment?
5. What About Medical Technology?

Conductive Hearing Loss

So What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

Conductive hearing loss is what happens when there is an issue in the ear’s ability to conduct sound waves along the course of the ear. This problem can occur in the outer ear, the eardrum or the middle ear.

It can happen by itself or it can occur simultaneously with sensorineural hearing loss, but the good news is that the conductive part of the hearing loss can be fixed either by medical procedures that have been developed (including surgery) or through the use of different kinds of hearing devices.

Conductive hearing loss is what happens when there is an issue in the ear’s ability to conduct sound waves along the course of the ear. Click To Tweet
One of the basic ways that this kind of hearing loss can be determined is by the Weber test.

This test is conducted by touching a tuning fork to the mid-line of the forehead and localizes to the ear that is being affected by the loss.

Another test (called the Rinne test) is different but finds the same results.

These kinds of hearing loss can affect either the external ear, the middle ear, or the internal ear.

The kinds of things that cause this kind of impairment in the external ear include a buildup of earwax, or an ear infection which can cause a buildup of fluid or inflammation to the ear canal.

At least those are the most usual causes.

More unusual causes include exostoses (bone build up), a tumor in the ear canal, congenital atresia or even foreign objects (such as bugs or debris) in the outer auditory canal.

How About Problems With The Eardrum?

Problems with the eardrum can be more serious and can include Tympanic membrane perforation, retraction, or tension caused by differing pressures in the external and middle ears (you experience this last kind when you fly or go through a tunnel or increase speeds).

Methods to Deal with The Problem

Issues with the middle ear usually include the buildup of fluids; this is an especially common in young children who have repeated ear infections or issues that cause a blockage of the Eustachian tube.

These conditions can either be acute or serous depending on the type of pressure and its duration.

Less often it could be that you have suffered trauma to the temporal bone or may even be suffering from a tumor in the middle ear.

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The hardest conditions come with those that affect the inner ear.

One of the most common occurrences is called severe otosclerosis when there is an obstruction in the inner ear; one that usually can only be corrected by surgery to remove the blockage.

So What are The Differences?

The differences between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are quite distinct.

For one thing, while the first can usually be corrected by removing the source of the abnormality (such as removing the foreign object, the tumor, releasing the fluid pressure (or equalizing it) or removing those obstacles in the ear canal, sensorineural hearing loss occurs when damage occurs to the tiny cilia that line the inner ear canal and which are detrimental for turning the sound waves that have traveled so far (through the ear drum and the tiny middle ear bones) into those electrical signals that are sent up to the brain through the auditory nerve and are then interpreted by the brain as specific sounds which are assigned a meaning and assigned a place in space and time.

More often than not, damage that occurs to the cilia cannot be undone.

There is also no way to effectively compensate for the damage as it is directly interfering with the ability of the ear to send clear messages to the brain.

For those who suffer from this kind of hearing loss, there are other methods that must be adapted in order to deal with the problem.

No matter what kind of hearing loss a person suffers from, and regardless of whether or not it can be corrected using medical procedures (including surgery) or whether the person simply needs to learn to live with it.

The good news is that for the first kind of hearing loss, there are any number of treatments and procedures available.

Most of these are fairly simple to perform (as medical procedures go) and can be done on an out-patient basis, which means that you can usually be in and out of the treatment center in the same day instead of wasting days or even weeks recuperating from surgeries or learning how to hear around your problem, or read lips.

There are Various Medical Procedures Available

What Causes The Impairment?

Hearing loss causes are many and varied, but basically it all boils down to two basic causes; either you were born with a congenital defect, or you develop your hearing loss due to some other means such as illness, injury, drug use or exposure to sudden or repetitively loud sounds.

While this may sound very succinct, the actual ways that an individual ends up losing their hearing can be as various as the people who suffer from hearing loss, so two individuals may both suffer from permanent hearing loss due to the injury of the hair-like nerve endings in the inner ear canal called cilia due to exposure to loud or repetitively loud noises.

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New Bills in California, Nevada Aim to Make Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Mandatory

“We believe that a child’s ability to hear should not be based on their family’s income,” Bloom was quoted as saying in the article. “Yet here in California, thousands of families have to pay for their child’s hearing aids out of pocket. Some are forced to forego hearing aids altogether while others have to delay maintenance or replacements.”…read more

But one of these people may have developed their problem through years and years of regular high voltage rock concerts, while the others may have developed theirs thanks to their job in an industrial setting where they were exposed to dangerous levels of noisy machinery.

The result is the same – the cause is altogether different.

The same holds true for injuries.

While hearing loss may be caused by head trauma, the way that someone was traumatized may be entirely different and can include causes as various as being hit in the head with a softball to falling downstairs, to being in a traffic accident, and each of these causes may in turn have been caused by any number of varying events leading up to the actual injury.

It really is quite a complicated business with only the use of certain kinds of drugs and illnesses providing any sort of continuity when it comes to permanent hearing loss.

Then of course there are the less serious kinds of hearing loss; those that are caused by obstructions in the ear canal itself.

These more mild causes of hearing loss can range from a build-up of ear wax, to actual debris in the ears to tumors, bone spurs, blockages, fluid buildup and any other number of obstructions, most of which can be removed surgically or through less invasive procedures, but which will result in a relatively clear ear and hearing that is within the normal range probably for the first time in years.

It is this reason (among many) that it is very important to see to it that you get your hearing checked on a regular basis.

Regular hearing checkups can determine if you have – or are developing – specific kinds of hearing problems, and if so, how they can be treated  – or at least prevented from getting any worse.

This can include things like having your ears cleaned out, being given a nasal rinse to help eliminate a build-up of fluids in your sinuses; using diuretics to eliminate the fluid in the ear canal surgical procedures to remove blockages or to insert tubes in the inner ear to keep the passages open among other things.

There are Less Serious Forms of Hearing Loss

Of course the longer you wait in between visits the more likely you will be to have to deal with more intense or serious problems.

Indeed, the best way to keep your hearing problems under control is definitely to get your ears checked out regularly by a professional.

What About Medical Technology?

While medical technology has improved tremendously over the last 100 years, it is still not up to the task of finding a way to make up for permanent hearing loss that involves the cilia of the inner ear, the auditory nerve itself, or the brain centers where the concept of hearing is processed and given meaning.

Damage to any of these areas can result in permanent hearing loss.

Luckily there are plenty of resources available to those individuals who suffer from what may very well prove to be long time hearing loss.

While hearing loss can be permanent, it does not mean that you have to give up your entire life style.

If the type of hearing loss you suffer from is conductive hearing loss, you are in luck.

In addition to the various medical procedures available, you also have the option of using hearing devices such as hearing aids (many of which today come small enough to fit inside of your ear and are hardly noticeable) to help restore your hearing range, (not normal hearing).

Hearing aids help to move (or conduct) the sound waves down through the ear canals, through the eardrum, over the middle ear bones, and through the inner ear to where they can be transposed into electrical impulses that will, in turn be translated into the idea of sounds by the sound processing centers of the brain.

While these will not do much to help those who have actually damaged the cilia itself, for the other kinds of hearing loss they can be a blessing and can enable individuals to live normal (or fairly normal) lives in spite of their disability.

If you are going to have regular contact with – or help those individuals who suffer from hearing loss, it is important to understand the many hearing loss causes and why some people can be helped to hear again, and others will simply have to live with their disability, sensorineural or ‘conductive hearing loss’, and make use of those resources that are available to them.


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