Sudden hearing loss can be extremely disconcerting. Your first response might be to try blowing your nose, cleaning your ear, or even taking a steamy shower to try to “unclog” it. You may even start to become concerned and wonder if you need to see a specialist.
When you suddenly (and noticeably) find it difficult to hear, the cause is usually something called conductive hearing loss. That’s just a fancy way of saying that there’s some kind of obstruction in your ear–something’s getting between your ear canal and the vibrating waves of air that create sounds.
But it could also be sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s important to understand the difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
What Is Conductive Hearing Loss?
When most people think about hearing loss, they most often think of it as a kind of slow and creeping ailment, something that sneaks up on you over time. Your ears are subjected to loud noises and, bit by bit, your hearing fades due to frequent exposure. This type of hearing loss, called sensorineural hearing loss, is indeed fairly common (which is why you should always wear proper hearing protection and pay attention to changes in your hearing).
But it’s not the only type of hearing loss. Sometimes your hearing can diminish because something gets in the way. Typically, sound waves travel into your outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear via vibrations–and then those vibrations are translated into sounds by your brain. When sounds, for whatever reason, aren’t detected by your outer or middle ear, the condition is classified as conductive hearing loss.
Common Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
The blockages that cause conductive hearing loss can have a variety of origins. So if we really want to dig deeper into the causes of conductive hearing loss, we have to keep shoveling (okay, not our greatest metaphor, but you get the idea). Some common causes of conductive hearing loss include the following.
One of the single most common causes of conductive hearing loss is an ear infection. This condition, particularly common among children, is pretty broad: infections can have a multitude of origins, though it’s usually bacterial in nature. Once the infection sets in, the ear canal swells (hurray for your body’s immune response). Sometimes, those ear canals swell so much that no sound can get through. The best way to treat this type of conductive hearing loss is usually to address the underlying infection, which typically requires medical attention.
Sometimes, stuff just gets in the way. One common example is a child who ends up with a pebble or small object in their ears. Physical obstructions can cause all kinds of hearing issues–but those issues usually clear up once the foreign object (be it pebble, rock, or something else) is removed.
Colds and Allergies
Cold and allergies can wage a two-pronged attack on your ears. First, there’s your body’s typical inflammation response to deal with. Second, there’s the fluid. Colds and allergies can create a lot of fluid. And because your ears, nose, and throat are all components of one closed system, those fluids can build up in your ears, blocking already stressed ear canals.
It’s not always pleasant to talk about, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss earwax somewhere on this list. Some people simply produce more earwax than others. And when this earwax accumulates, it can hamper the ability of sounds to reach your inner ear. The problem can get worse as the earwax hardens, making standard cleaning and hygiene important.
Other Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
In some cases, conductive hearing loss can also be caused by:
- A hole in or trauma caused to your eardrum.
- Tumors (usually benign) or other growths.
- Congenital conditions that affect the formation of the middle or outer ear.
- Fluid drainage from your nose.
The Fix for Conductive Hearing Loss
The nice thing is that conductive hearing loss can usually be treated. In most cases, your hearing can even be restored. That’s not always true for other forms of hearing loss. Talking to a hearing specialist as soon as possible after you notice any hearing loss can help you determine the best course of action in terms of corrections and treatments.
Knowing the top causes of conductive hearing loss is no substitute for a professional opinion, so always consult with your hearing specialist if your hearing suddenly–or gradually–diminishes.