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 called otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can affect children as well as adults, particularly after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the major signs or symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. There are many things going on with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to know more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Otitus media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it could possibly be caused by any type of micro-organism.

Ear infections are identified by where they occur in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area houses the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, usually until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear leakage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced hearing

Eventually, hearing will return for the majority of people. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will come back. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause complications that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear can’t receive sound waves at the proper intensity. The ear has mechanisms along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to trigger a vibration. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. When this occurs your ears don’t heal themselves. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum can fix itself but it may have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. Surgery can deal with that, also.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?

If you believe that you may have an ear infection, call a doctor as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. It’s time to give up smoking because it causes chronic respiratory problems which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information about hearing aids.

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