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When it comes to hearing health, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for the more unexpected conditions – and conductive hearing loss is certainly one of those.

Because not many people know the ins and outs of conductive hearing loss, it can be a very difficult condition to live with. But don’t despair – with the right knowhow, you can tackle conductive hearing loss head on and look forward to eliminating it from your everyday ear-related concerns.

Boots Hearingcare looks at some of the most important factors surrounding conductive hearing loss, including common causes and symptoms as well as possible treatment options…

What is conductive hearing loss?

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound can’t effectively travel through the outer and middle ear. Usually, this is due to blockage that prevents sound from properly passing through. When this happens, it impacts the cochlea’s (hearing organ) ability to send a clear signal to the brain, resulting in impaired hearing.

Conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause. It may also affect one or both ears, so be vigilant. 


Conductive hearing loss can affect the outer ear, ear canal, and middle ear. Identifying what area of the ear is affected will help your local hearing healthcare professional make an accurate diagnosis and provide an effective treatment strategy.

The most common causes of conductive hearing loss include:
  • Fluid build-up in the middle ear
  • Ear infection
  • A hole in your eardrum
  • Earwax accumulation in your ear canal
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • An object stuck in your outer ear
  • A malformation of the outer or middle ear
Remember, if you feel that your hearing may be damaged in some way, it’s advisable to contact a qualified audiologist or doctor as soon as possible and arrange a check-up.

Conductive hearing loss symptoms

So, what are the symptoms of conductive hearing loss? The main symptom of this type of hearing loss is a change in how you perceive sound levels; you might find that everything is muffled, or just quieter than usual.
Additional signs of conductive hearing loss are:
  • Difficulty hearing conversations
  • Feeling pressure or discomfort in your ears
  • Trouble understanding people in noisy environments
  • An inability to distinguish quiet sounds
  • Noticeable difference in hearing with each ear
  • Hearing your own voice differently
A common misconception about conductive hearing loss is that you stop hearing altogether. In fact, most sufferers find that others’ speech is still clear and there’s no distortion; it just needs to be louder for them to hear properly.

Conductive hearing loss treatment

Treating conductive hearing loss typically involves one or more of these four options:
  • Cleaning, which will help to remove any excess wax or foreign bodies impeding your hearing ability.
  • Antibiotics, used in serious cases, as most secondary ear infections work themselves out over time.
  • Surgery; for example, if your conductive hearing loss is due to a growth in the ear canal.
  • Hearing aids, to amplify quieter sounds.
Most cases of conductive hearing loss are temporary and can be sorted with relative ease. However, the importance of seeking treatment early can’t be overstated.

Conductive vs Sensorineural hearing loss

A lot of confusion exists around conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Thankfully, we’re here to get you clued up.

The main difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss is that each condition affects different parts of the ear. Conductive hearing loss develops from an issue related to the outer or middle ear that prevents sound from being processed correctly. By contrast, sensorineural hearing loss results from loss of or damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear – the sensory part – which transmit sound waves through the hearing nerve to the brain.

Another factor to consider is that while conductive hearing loss is usually mild and temporary, sensorineural hearing loss creates a permanent change in hearing – although this can be successfully managed with hearing aids.

It is also possible for people to experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This is referred to as mixed hearing loss and should be taken very seriously.

Frequently asked questions

Is conductive hearing loss reversible?
In most cases, conductive hearing loss can be reversed; however, this will depend on the underlying cause and whatever treatment approach you choose. Be sure to discuss all your options with a doctor post-hearing test.
How is a conductive hearing loss diagnosis confirmed?
Given that there are a range of potential causes associated with conductive hearing loss, examination must be carried out and diagnosis confirmed by your GP or a qualified audiologist. This will involve them thoroughly checking over the affected ear(s) for signs of infection, blockage or physical anomaly.

Tuning forks and tests like a tympanogram may also be used to determine the degree of hearing damage and help inform treatment decision-making.
How is bilateral hearing loss connected?
Put simply, bilateral hearing loss is when you lose the ability to hear out of both ears. It can happen gradually or in an instant and is understandably very distressing.

Hearing loss in both ears can be exclusively conductive or sensorineural, as well as a combination of the two. As such, if you notice any significant change in hearing quality across both ears, book an appointment to see an audiologist at your earliest convenience.