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.

Otitis media is the medical term for what you more than likely call an ear infection. These ear infections can affect adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

If you have an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some hearing loss, but how long will it last? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot of things happening. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

The easiest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could possibly be caused by any type of micro-organism.

The principal way an infection is specified is by what part of the ear is infected. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The middle ear is comprised of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area has the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this type of infection, which is likely to be extremely painful. This pressure is not only painful, it causes hearing loss. The infectious material builds up and blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.

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

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced ability to hear

Usually, hearing will come back eventually. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Most people get an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can lead to complications that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. Essentially, sound waves can’t make it to the inner ear at the proper intensity. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to trigger a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria don’t merely sit and behave themselves in the ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. Once they are gone, they stay gone. 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 restore itself but it might have scar tissue impacting its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, as well.

Can This Permanent Damage be Prevented?

Most importantly, see a doctor if you believe you have an ear infection. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more severe infections. Ear infections typically start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory troubles.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having difficulties hearing, call your doctor. It could be possible that 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 info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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