Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

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

An ear infection is the well-known name, but it’s 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 too. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have some loss of hearing, but will it go away? To find a complete answer can be fairly complex. There are many things going on with ear infections. You should understand how the damage caused by ear infections can have an impact on 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 possibly be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are defined by where they appear in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break because of the pressure from this sort of infection, which tends to be really painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes a loss of hearing. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that will then result in a loss of hearing.

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

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced ability to hear

Over time, hearing will come back for most people. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can result in problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong 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 things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just sitting in your ear doing nothing. They must eat to survive, 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 break them up. Once they are gone, they stay gone. When this occurs your ears don’t heal themselves. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum can fix itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, as well.

This Permanent Damage Can be Prevented

First and foremost, consult a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections normally start. It’s time to stop smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info about hearing aids.

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