An ear infection is the well-known name, but it’s medically referred to as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an affect on children as well as adults, particularly after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.
Hearing loss is one of the primary symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot going on. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that injury can affect your hearing.
Otitis Media, What is it?
The simplest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it might be caused by any type of micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that defines it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The middle ear consists of the area 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 due to the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be extremely painful. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material which can then result in a loss of hearing.
The signs or symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear drainage
- Pain in the ear
- Diminished ability to hear
For the majority of people, hearing comes back in time. Hearing will come back after the pressure starts to go away enabling the ear canal to open up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.
Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. For other people, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Chronic ear infections can result in complications that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.
When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just resting inside your ear doing nothing. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this type of damage includes the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. These bones will never come back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can fix itself but it may have scar tissue impacting its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.
Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Avoided?
If you think you might have an ear infection, call a doctor immediately. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections normally begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.
If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.