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

What is typically labeled as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections like this are usually found in babies and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

If you have an infection in the middle ear you will probably have some loss of hearing, but will it go away? The answer to this question may be more complicated than you may think. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you need to learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

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

It’s what part of the ear the infection occurs in that identifies it. Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. This area has the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that will then result in a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished ability to hear

Usually, hearing will come back eventually. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. There are exceptions, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people experience an ear infection at least once in their life. For others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. Which means that the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. 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. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms 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 break them up. Once they are gone, they stay gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum can repair itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Most significantly, see a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, consult 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 will help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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