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

What is commonly known as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults as well. Even a bad tooth can lead to an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications 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 factors to take into consideration. You should learn how the damage caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

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

The main way an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate 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 actually breaks. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. Sound waves are then blocked by the accumulation of infectious material in the ear canal.

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

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

For the majority of people, hearing returns over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. For other people, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. 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 chronic ear infections. Essentially, sound waves don’t get to the inner ear with enough intensity. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so that when it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense 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 merely sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you get an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. When this happens your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it will probably have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

If you believe that you may have an ear infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Ear infections normally begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you are still having trouble hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but 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 information about hearing aids.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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