HEARING TIPS

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.

An ear infection is the accepted name, but it’s medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections just like this are often seen in infants and young kids but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. Even a bad tooth can bring on an ear infection.

Exactly how long will hearing loss last after having an infection of the middle ear? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. There are a lot of things going on with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it could be caused by any micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear the infection occurs in that defines it. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The three little bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be quite painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes a loss of hearing. Sound waves are then obstructed by the buildup of infectious material inside the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

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

For the majority of people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will then open up and hearing will return. The infection gets resolved and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to create a vibration. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t just sit and do nothing in the ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. Usually, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can restore itself but it will probably have scar tissue affecting its ability to move. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Above all, see a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking increases your risk of getting chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, see your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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