Can an Ear Infection Cause Long-Term Hearing Loss?

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

What is generally known as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an effect on children as well as adults, especially after a cold or sinus infection. Even an injured tooth can bring on an ear infection.

If you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually have some hearing loss, but how long will it last? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. There are many things happening with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

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

It’s what part of the ear that the infection happens in that identifies it. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break due to the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be extremely painful. This pressure is not only painful, it causes a loss of hearing. The infectious material builds up and blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced hearing

Over time, hearing will come back for most people. Hearing will come back after the pressure starts to go away permitting the ear canal to open back up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. For others, the issues become chronic, so they have infections over and over. Chronic ear infections can result in complications that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. In other words, sound waves can’t reach the inner ear at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to create a vibration. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy in 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 commonly affected. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. 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. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum can mend itself but it might 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?

First and foremost, see a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always have chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. It’s time to give up smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

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

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.


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