Center for Hearing - Sarasota, FL

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

An ear infection is the well-known name, but it’s medically called otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, particularly after a sinus infection or a cold. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in 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. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how this injury can impact your ability to hear.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Basically, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection happens in that identifies it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. The term laberynthitus describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The three tiny 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, often until it breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The ear canal can be clogged by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.

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

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished hearing

For the majority of people, hearing comes back in time. The ear canal will open back up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep having ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong 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 in your ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum may have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will influence its ability to move. Surgery can fix that, also.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?

Above all, consult a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Ear infections usually start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. It’s time to stop smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, call your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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