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

An ear infection is the common name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an affect on children as well as adults, particularly after a sinus infection or a cold. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the primary signs and symptoms of an infection in 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 going on with ear infections. To understand the risks, you should know more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

The easiest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it could be caused by any micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that defines it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that can then cause a loss of hearing.

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

  • Ear drainage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced hearing

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will return. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people get an ear infection. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more significant and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. When this happens, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong 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 behave themselves in the ear when you get an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. Usually, this kind 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. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum may have scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can influence its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.

Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?

Most importantly, see a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t neglect them. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information on hearing aids.

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