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

What is typically referred to 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. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually have at least some hearing loss, but how long will it last? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can affect your ability to hear.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear the infection appears in that identifies it. The outer ear, which is medically known as 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 space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The three little bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes hearing loss. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material that will then result in a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced ability to hear

Eventually, hearing will come back for the majority of people. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will return. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their lifetime. For some others, the issues become chronic, so they have infections again and again. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. As a result, the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves 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 powerful enough to cause a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just sitting in your ear doing nothing. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. Usually, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. Once they are gone, their gone. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it may have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. Surgery can deal with that, as well.

This Permanent Damage Can be Prevented

If you think you might have an ear infection, call a doctor immediately. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of getting chronic respiratory troubles.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear again. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information on hearing aids.

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