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

An ear infection is the popular name, but it’s medically referred to as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can affect children as well as adults, especially after a sinus infection or a cold. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

When you have an infection in the middle ear you will usually have at least some loss of hearing, but will it go away? To come up with a complete answer can be fairly complicated. Ear infections have a lot of things going on. To understand the risks, you need to know more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

The easiest way to understand otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear the infection happens in that identifies 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. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.

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. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, usually until it actually breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. Sound waves are then hindered by the buildup of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Diminished ability to hear

For the majority of people, hearing comes back over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep having ear infections. Chronic ear infections can result in complications that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. 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 already amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just resting in your ear doing nothing. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can influence its ability to move. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Most significantly, see a doctor if you believe you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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