Can an Ear Infection Cause Long-Term Hearing Loss?

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

What is generally known as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, particularly after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the major signs and symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. There are many things happening with ear infections. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear the infection occurs in that defines it. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area 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. The eardrum will often actually break due to the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be really painful. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

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

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished hearing

Usually, hearing will come back eventually. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away allowing the ear canal to open up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their life. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep having ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by repeated ear infections. Which means that the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper strength. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. When this happens your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can fix itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Most importantly, consult a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having trouble hearing, call your 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 will help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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