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 probably call an ear infection. Ear infections are very common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but adults as well. Even an injured tooth can bring on an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary signs and symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? To come up with a complete answer can be somewhat complicated. Ear infections have a lot taking place. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how this damage can impact your hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

The easiest way to understand otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are identified by where they occur in the ear. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. The eardrum will often actually break due to the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be really painful. This pressure is not only painful, it causes a loss of hearing. Sound waves are then blocked by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

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

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced ability to hear

For most people, hearing returns over time. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people get an ear infection. 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 possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear can’t receive sound waves at the proper strength. 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 strong enough to trigger a vibration. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

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 usually done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. 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 fix this. The eardrum might have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can affect its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?

It’s essential to consult a doctor if you think you might have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections typically start. If you are a smoker, now is the time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory troubles.

If you are still having trouble hearing after having 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 are very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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