Audiology Specialty Clinic - Sioux Falls, SD

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 most likely call an ear infection. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, especially after a sinus infection or a cold. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the primary signs or symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? The answer to this question may be more complicated than you think. There are many things going on with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

The simplest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.

The primary way in which an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The middle ear consists of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break due to the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be very painful. That pressure is also why you can’t hear very well. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

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

  • Ear leakage
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished hearing

For the majority of people, hearing returns in time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. For other people, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by chronic ear infections. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. The ear has mechanisms 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 trigger a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and do nothing inside the ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

It’s important to see a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always get chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections usually start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to stop smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having problems hearing, see your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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