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

What is generally labeled as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are commonly found in babies and young kids but they can affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

If you have an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have some hearing loss, but will it go away? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot of things happening. To understand the potential risks, you need to know more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Just what is Otitis Media?

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

It’s what part of the ear the infection appears in that defines it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The middle ear consists of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three tiny bones called ossicles which are located in this area. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be extremely painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes hearing loss. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material which will then result in a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

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

Repeated 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 having ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the issues are left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper strength. 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 strength. 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. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. Normally, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can influence its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, also.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

It’s important to see a doctor if you think you might have an ear infection. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Ear infections usually start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. It’s time to give up smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, see your doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.