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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. These ear infections can affect children as well as adults, particularly after a sinus infection or a cold. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the major signs and symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. There are many things going on with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

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

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

The middle ear consists of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area contains the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break because of the pressure from this sort of infection, which tends to be extremely painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes hearing loss. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material which will then result in a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

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

Over time, hearing will come back for the majority of people. The ear canal will open back up and hearing will come back. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

Most people experience an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again so they become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear can’t receive sound waves at the proper intensity. The ear has mechanisms 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 just sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never come back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can restore itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. Surgery can deal with that, also.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided

If you think you may have an ear infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections usually begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. If you smoke, now is the time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory issues.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear once again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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