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Air Conduction vs. Bone Conduction

If we want to talk about air conduction and bone conduction, we have to mention one of the tests generally used to spot hearing problems. It is the so called Rinne test and it is designed to evaluate the hearing loss by comparing bone conduction to air conduction.

However, before we dive into more details let’s take a quick look at what are Air and Bone conduction.

What is Air Conduction?

Air conduction hearing happens through the air near the ear. It directly engages the eardrum and the ear canal. It basically uses the ear mechanism to increase and direct the sound.

What is Bone Conduction?

Bone conduction hearing on the other side, makes it possible for the vibration sound to be conducted to the inner ear. The bones of the skull reduce the volume while being transferred.

A Brief overview of the Rinne test

In short terms, the Rinne Test is an explicit type of hearing test which is very popular today. It was primarily developed to help people determine whether they have hearing loss problems and to do it quickly.

How does the Rinne test work?

In order to perform the test a vibrating tuning fork is necessary. There are two specific stages in this test, and it basically compares in what extent the ear reacts to sounds received via bone conduction and air conduction. And the results of this comparison tell us more about the hearing loss.

During the first stage of the test a vibrating tuning fork is being placed against the mastoid bone. The tester has to give a sign when he stops hearing the sound coming from it.

In the second stage the fork is being placed behind the ear canal. The tester has to give a sign when he doesn’t hear the sound any more.

Please note that after the Rinne test additional professional hearing tests are required.

What does the Rinne test tell us?

The Rinne test results reveal the signs of hearing loss. The tests you have to do after the Rinne test are required in order to confirm the hearing problems, and of course to determine the exact cause of the problem.

In case the tester hears the sound after the tuning fork is no longer held against the mastoid bone then the hearing is normal, and no hearing problems are present.

However, if the tester stops hearing the sound after the tuning fork is removed, then hearing loss is present. 

This actually means that there is a possible hearing loss problem because the bone conduction is higher than air conduction.

The Weber Test – A valuable addition to the Rinne test

The Weber Test is another quick hearing test which is usually performed together with the Rinne test. These two tests work perfectly together. However, just like the Rinne test you should seek for additional audiometric tests performed by your audiologist if you are worried about your hearing.

Air and Bone Conducted Hearing Loss – Is there a difference??

Based on the results you can get a clear picture about the ways the ear receives the sound. If there are no hearing problems, the tester won’t have troubles hearing through both bone conduction and air conduction. The Rinne tests basically compares these two.

Air conduction pays attention to the air around the eardrum and helps us determine the so-called conductive hearing loss.

At the same time, bone conduction is focused on the vibrations being transferred via the bones of the skull to the inner ear. This basically avoids the eardrum and this is exactly how headphones with bone conduction technology work.

What is better air conduction or bone conduction?

When the hearing is normal the Air conduction is supposed to be better than bone conduction. At the same time air conduction (Stage 1) should last double the time than the Bone conduction (Stage 2). In that case the test is POSITIVE.

However, if the Bone conduction (Stage 2) is better than the Air conduction (Stage 1), it indicates a conductive hearing loss and the test is NEGATIVE.

So, the answer to the question whether air conduction is better than bone conduction we have to say that Air conduction is better.

Is air or bone conduction more sensitive?

Well, the correct question in this case would be whether the inner ear is more sensitive to the sound delivered via bone conduction or air conduction? The answer in this case is that air conduction is more sensitive.

For example, in case of a unilateral conductive hearing loss, the ability to hear sound delivered through bone conduction can be improved. We can explain it in this way:

There is less Ambiental noise being heard via the affected ear using air conduction, while the healthy ear receives sounds from both air and bone conduction. This means that the affected ear is more sensitive to bone conduction.

Generally, the sound delivered using bone conduction goes directly to the cochlea. Normally, a certain amount of low-frequency sounds will disperse from the canal. When conductive hearing loss is present, the dispersion is being prevented and the cochlea will be heavily stimulated and the loudness will be increased in the affected ear.

On the other hand, when we have sensorineural hearing loss, the unaffected ear will receive louder sound because of the better cochlea.

At the end we hope you understand the difference between air conduction and bone conduction in determining hearing loss problems. You also know which test you can undergo in case you suspect to have some hearing problems. These are simple and easy to perform. At the same time these tests are the first ones you will have to do in order to determine the cause of your hearing problems.


Posts by SpeakBindas Editorial Team.

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