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

What is commonly known as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are normally found in infants and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. Even a bad tooth can lead to an ear infection.

Exactly how long will loss of hearing last after having an infection of the middle ear? The answer to this question might be more complicated than you might think. Ear infections have a lot happening. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it might be caused by any micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection happens in that defines it. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The infectious material builds up and finally blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

For most people, hearing returns over time. Hearing will return after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. There are exceptions, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people get 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 worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful enough to create a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and do nothing inside the ear when you get an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is usually done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to move. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?

It’s essential to see a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t neglect them. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Finally, take steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. If you are a smoker, now is the time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory issues.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. There are other things which 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. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.

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