Conductive vs. Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The Difference and How to Treat Them

by | Aug 1, 2023 | General | 0 comments

Hearing loss is a prevalent condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be categorised into two main types: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Understanding the difference between these two types of hearing loss and their respective treatments is crucial for effective management and improvement of the quality of life for those affected. This article explores conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, its symptoms, causes, similarities, differences, and available treatment options.

What is Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is a type of hearing impairment due to problems in the outer or middle ear, hindering sound transmission to the inner ear. Individuals with conductive hearing loss may find it difficult to hear faint sounds and may experience a reduction in overall hearing clarity. This type of hearing loss is often treatable and can be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause.

Conductive Hearing Loss Symptoms

Common symptoms of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Muffled or dull hearing
  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments
  • The sensation of pressure or fullness in the affected ear
  • Pain or discomfort in the ear
  • Prolonged or recurring ear infections
  • Fluid drainage from the ear.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Ear infections
    • Inflammation and fluid buildup in the middle ear due to infections can obstruct sound transmission.
  • Earwax blockage
    • Excessive earwax can accumulate and block the ear canal, preventing sound from reaching the eardrum.
  • Otitis media
    • This is a middle ear infection commonly observed in children and can lead to temporary hearing loss.
  • Perforated eardrum
    • A hole or tear in the eardrum can disrupt the transmission of sound vibrations.
  • Abnormal ear bone growth
    • Conditions like otosclerosis can cause abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, impeding sound transmission.

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss

On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss involves damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or the auditory nerve pathway to the brain. This type of hearing loss is often permanent and can be caused by aging, exposure to loud noises, certain medications, and genetic predisposition.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss may include

  • Difficulty hearing soft or high-pitched sounds
  • Trouble understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Gradual hearing loss over time
  • Feeling that others are mumbling or speaking unclearly.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors, including.

  • Age-related degeneration
    • As we age, the sensory cells in the cochlea may deteriorate, leading to gradual hearing loss.
  • Noise exposure
    • Prolonged exposure to loud noises can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss.
  • Genetic factors
    • Genetic mutations can make individuals more susceptible to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Head trauma
    • Severe head injuries can damage the auditory nerve or the cochlea.
  • Ototoxic medications
    • Some medications, such as certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can harm the inner ear’s delicate structures.

Conductive vs. Sensorineural Hearing Loss: What are the Similarities?

While conductive and sensorineural hearing loss differ in their causes and locations of damage, they do share some commonalities:

  1. Both types can lead to difficulty in hearing and understanding speech.
  2. They can occur unilaterally (affecting one ear) or bilaterally (affecting both ears).
  3. They may be present from birth (congenital) or develop later in life (acquired).
  4. medical or surgical intervention may sometimes be necessary for management.

Conductive vs. Sensorineural Hearing Loss: What are the Differences?

The main differences between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss lie in their causes and treatability:

  1. Conductive hearing loss is often caused by factors obstructing sound transmission to the inner ear, while sensorineural hearing loss is typically due to inner ear or auditory nerve damage.
  2. Conductive hearing loss is more likely to be temporary and reversible with appropriate medical intervention, while sensorineural hearing loss is generally permanent.
  3. Conductive hearing loss may be managed with medications or surgery, depending on the underlying cause, whereas sensorineural hearing loss is usually managed with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

How to Treat Conductive Hearing Loss

The treatment for conductive hearing loss depends on the underlying cause:

  1. Ear infections may be treated with antibiotics or anti-fungal medications.
  2. A healthcare professional can resolve Earwax blockage using special instruments or irrigation.
  3. A perforation in the eardrum may heal on its own or require surgical repair (tympanoplasty).
  4. Abnormal ear bone growth (otosclerosis) can sometimes be treated with surgery (stapedectomy).

How to Treat Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is usually irreversible, but hearing aids and cochlear implants can significantly improve hearing and speech understanding for many individuals. Hearing aids amplify sound and are suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss. At the same time, cochlear implants are implanted surgically and directly stimulate the auditory nerve for severe to profound hearing loss.


Can conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss occur together?

Yes, it is possible to have a combination of both types, known as mixed hearing loss. This can occur when an individual experiences problems in the middle or outer ear and the inner ear or auditory nerve.

Can sudden sensorineural hearing loss be treated?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is essential for the best chance of recovery. In some cases, steroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and improve hearing outcomes.

Can conductive hearing loss improve on its own?

Conductive hearing loss may improve if the underlying cause is temporary, such as earwax blockage or mild ear infections. However, it is essential to seek medical evaluation to identify and treat the cause appropriately.

Understanding the difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss is crucial for effective management. While conductive hearing loss is often temporary and treatable, sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent and requires long-term management with hearing aids or cochlear implants. If you or someone you know experiences hearing difficulties, seeking professional evaluation and treatment can make a significant difference in maintaining a high quality of life. Early intervention is critical to managing hearing loss effectively.