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

What is generally labeled as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can affect adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot going on. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Simply put, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are defined by where they manifest 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 middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, usually until it breaks. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.

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

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

For most people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will return. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep having ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. 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 amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this kind of damage involves the eardrum and those tiny little bones. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never grow 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 fix hearing. The eardrum can fix itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

It’s important to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. More damage will be caused by more severe infections. Ear infections usually begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. If you smoke, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory issues.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting 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 can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. You should 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.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC