Hearing Care Specialists - Hopkins, Glencoe, and Watertown, MN

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

What is commonly known as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults as well. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

Exactly how long will loss of hearing last after an infection of the middle ear? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. There are many things going on with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you need to know more about the damage these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Just what is Otitis Media?

Simply put, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that identifies it. 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 space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break due to the pressure from this kind of infection, which tends to be really painful. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The infectious material builds up and blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

The signs of a middle ear infection in an adult include:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Diminished ability to hear

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. This means that the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to trigger a vibration. 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 mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. Normally, this kind of damage includes the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to break down these fragile bones. If you suffer a loss of these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum might have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can affect its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, also.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

First and foremost, consult a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more severe infections. Ear infections usually start 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 still are having problems hearing, see your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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