Woman recovers her hearing after an ear infection and listens to her grandaughter whisper something in her ear.
An ear infection is the typical name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but adults too. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.
Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can impact your hearing.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could possibly be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.
Ear infections are defined 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, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.
The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three tiny bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be very painful. That pressure is also why you don’t hear very well. Sound waves are then hindered by the buildup of infectious material inside the ear canal.
A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:
- Drainage from the ear
- Pain in the ear
- Decreased ability to hear
Eventually, hearing will return for most people. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. The infection gets resolved and your hearing comes back. Sometimes there are complications, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections
Ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. In other words, sound waves can’t reach the inner ear with enough intensity. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.
Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. When this occurs your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum might have scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can impact its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, also.
This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided
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. Always get chronic ear infection checked by a doctor. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections normally start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory problems.
If you are still having difficulty hearing after having an ear infection, see a 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. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information on hearing aids.