Will my Hearing Loss be Permanent After an Ear Infection?

Woman recovers her hearing after an ear infection and listens to her grandaughter whisper something in her ear.

Otitis media is the medical term for what you most likely call an ear infection. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they don’t only affect children but also adults. Even an injured tooth can trigger an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary signs or symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Just what is Otitis Media?

Put simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any micro-organism.

Ear infections are defined by where they manifest in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The three little bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, usually until it breaks. This pressure is not only painful, it causes a loss of hearing. Sound waves are then blocked by the buildup of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

The symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:

  • Ear leakage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased ability to hear

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. The infection gets better and your hearing comes back. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to trigger a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and behave themselves in the ear when you get an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. The damage is usually done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum can restore itself but it will probably have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Avoided?

If you think you might have an ear infection, call a doctor right away. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory troubles.

If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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