Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

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

An ear infection is the common name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an effect on adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. Even a bad tooth can cause an ear infection.

Just how long will loss of hearing persist after an infection of the middle ear? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. There are many things going on with ear infections. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how this damage can impact your ability to hear.

Just what is Otitis Media?

To put it simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.

The main way in which an infection is specified is by what part of the ear is infected. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. This area has 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 kind of infection, which tends to be very painful. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished hearing

Over time, hearing will return for most people. The ear canal will open back up and hearing will return. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are exceptions, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people experience an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can cause complications that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. Essentially, sound waves don’t make it to the inner ear with enough strength. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the components 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 as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The damage is normally 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. These bones will never grow 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 fix hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it might have scar tissue impacting its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, also.

What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?

If you think you may have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. It could be possible that 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 hearing loss. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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