An ear infection is the popular name, but it’s medically named otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are very prevalent after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults as well. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.
Hearing loss is one of the major symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? The answer to this question might be more complex than you might think. There are a number of variables to take into account. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
To put it simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.
Ear infections are defined by where they develop in the ear. Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. The eardrum will often actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which is likely to be quite painful. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that can then result in a loss of hearing.
A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:
- Ear leakage
- Ear pain
- Diminished ability to hear
Usually, hearing will return in the course of time. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away allowing the ear canal to open back up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.
Repeated Ear Infections
The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can result in complications that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Essentially, sound waves don’t reach the inner ear at the proper intensity. 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. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.
Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will affect its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, as well.
Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?
If you think you may have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Finally, take steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections usually start. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you are still having trouble hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information about hearing aids.