Cedar Audiology Associates - Cleveland, OH

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

Otitis media is the medical term for what you more than likely call an ear infection. Ear infections such as this are usually found in babies and young kids but they can also affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the major symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. There are quite a few factors to consider. To understand the risks, you should learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are defined by where they manifest in the ear. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. The term labyrinthitis refers to 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 has the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be extremely painful. That pressure is also why you can’t hear very well. The infectious material builds up and finally blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

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

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

For most people, hearing comes back over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people experience an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. The ear has components 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 powerful enough to cause a vibration. Sometimes something changes 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 live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. Normally, 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. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum may have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which will affect its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Prevented

It’s important to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Finally, take steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. It’s time to quit smoking because it causes chronic respiratory problems which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having trouble hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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