Hearing Aids by Tricia Leagjeld - Redmond, OR

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

What is usually referred to as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are usually seen in babies and young kids but they can also affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. Even a bad tooth can lead to an ear infection.

When you have an infection in the middle ear you will probably have at least some hearing loss, but will it go away? The answer to this question may be more complicated than you may think. There are many things happening with ear infections. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how that injury can affect your ability to hear.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Otitus media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are identified by where they manifest in the ear. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it breaks. Your inability to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

Eventually, hearing will come back for most people. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. There are some exceptions, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep having ear infections. Chronic ear infections can lead to complications that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful enough to trigger a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. It doesn’t take very much to break down these delicate bones. These bones will never come back once they are gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, as well.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?

If you believe that you may have an ear infection, call a doctor right away. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to prevent them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory issues.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. 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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