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

An ear infection is the popular name, but it’s medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections just like this are often seen in infants and young kids but they can affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some loss of hearing, but how long will it last? The answer to this question might be more challenging than you might think. Ear infections have a lot of things going on. You should learn how the damage 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 prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any micro-organism.

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

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, known as 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, usually until it breaks. This pressure is not only painful, it causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.

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

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

For the majority of people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will return. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. Essentially, sound waves can’t make it to the inner ear with enough strength. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to create a vibration. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases 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, their gone. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided

If you think you may have an ear infection, call a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. Always have chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. It’s time to quit smoking because it causes chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having difficulties hearing, call your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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