Bright Audiology - Sanford, NC

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 very common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but also adults. Even a bad tooth can cause an ear infection.

Exactly how long will loss of hearing persist after having an infection of the middle ear? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. Ear infections have a lot going on. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how this injury can impact your ability to hear.

Otitis Media, What is it?

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

Ear infections are defined by where they occur in the ear. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, often until it breaks. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material which will then cause a loss of hearing.

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

  • Ear leakage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased ability to hear

Over time, hearing will come back for the majority of people. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away permitting the ear canal to open up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people experience an ear infection. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. Put simply, sound waves can’t reach the inner ear with enough strength. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria don’t just sit and behave themselves in the 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 delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never come back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it will probably have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

First and foremost, consult a doctor if you believe you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. It’s time to quit smoking because it causes chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having trouble hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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