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 name for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections like this are normally found in babies and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.

Exactly how long will loss of hearing persist after you get an infection of the middle ear? The answer to this question might be more complex than you may think. Ear infections have a lot of things happening. You should learn how the damage caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

Just what is Otitis Media?

Put simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

The main way an infection is specified is by what part of the ear it occurs in. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. That pressure is also why you can’t hear very well. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

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

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. 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 sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just sitting in your ear doing nothing. They need to eat to survive, so they break down those components 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. If you suffer a loss of these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum can fix itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, also.

Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?

It’s important to see a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. Also, don’t neglect chronic ear infections. More damage will be caused by more severe infections. Finally, take steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. If you smoke, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory issues.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.

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