An ear infection is the typical name, but it’s medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a sinus infection or cold and they not only affect children but adults too. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.
Just how long will hearing loss last after an infection of the middle ear? The answer to this question might be more complex than you might think. There are a lot of things going on with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
The simplest way to understand otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.
Ear infections are defined by where they appear in the ear. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area houses the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes a loss of hearing. The ear canal can be clogged by infectious material that can then cause a loss of hearing.
A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:
- Drainage from the ear
- Ear pain
- Reduced hearing
For the majority of people, hearing returns over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
Most people get an ear infection at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over so they become chronic. Chronic ear infections can result in problems that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections
Ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to cause a vibration. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.
Bacteria don’t merely sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you get 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 usually affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to fix this. The eardrum can restore itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.
Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?
If you believe that you might have an ear infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always have chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to stop smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having trouble hearing, call your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.