Geneva Hearing Services - Geneva, IL

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

Otitis media is the medical name for what you more than likely call an ear infection. Ear infections like this are usually seen in infants and young kids but they can also 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.

Exactly how long will hearing loss last after having an infection of the middle ear? To find a complete answer can be somewhat complicated. Ear infections have a lot happening. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

The simplest way to understand otitis media is that it’s 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 that the infection develops in that defines it. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labrynthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is referred to as the middle ear. This area houses the three ossicles, or tiny 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 breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. Sound waves are then hindered by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased hearing

For most people, hearing comes back over time. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open back up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. 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 sitting in your ear doing nothing. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is commonly affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. When this happens your ears don’t heal themselves. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to fix this. The eardrum can mend itself but it will probably have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

Most importantly, see a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they 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 will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

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

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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