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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 such as this are commonly found in babies and young children but they can affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. There are many things going on with ear infections. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any type of micro-organism.

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

The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. The three little bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break because of the pressure from this kind of infection, which tends to be very painful. Your failure to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and finally blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

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

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can result in complications that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the problem is left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. They need to eat to live and multiply, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never come back once they are gone. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum may have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which will influence its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Prevented

If you think you might have an ear infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Ear infections usually start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory troubles.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having problems hearing, call your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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.