Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

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

An ear infection is the common name, but it’s medically named otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are very common after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but also adults. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some hearing loss, but will it go away? To find a precise answer can be somewhat complicated. Ear infections have a lot happening. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Basically, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are defined by where they manifest in the ear. 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 occurs in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is referred to as the middle ear. This area has the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break due to the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be really painful. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.

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

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced ability to hear

Eventually, hearing will return for the majority of people. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are exceptions, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their lifetime. The issues 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 even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to trigger a vibration. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy in 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. Usually, this type of damage involves the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to break down these fragile bones. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will affect its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, as well.

What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?

If you believe that you may have an ear infection, call a doctor as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Finally, take steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. If you smoke, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having 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 it may be possible that you may have some damage. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info about hearing aids.

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