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

What is generally referred to as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but adults too. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the major symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? The answer to this question might be more complicated than you may think. There are numerous factors to take into account. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

The simplest way to understand otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it may be caused by any micro-organism.

The primary way an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis refers to an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. This area houses the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be very painful. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased hearing

For the majority of people, hearing returns over time. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by repeated ear infections. 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 cause 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. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you suffer a loss of these bones they don’t grow back. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can restore itself but it may have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Prevented

Most importantly, consult a doctor if you believe you have an ear infection. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory problems.

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. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info about hearing aids.

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