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Enhanced Hearing Center - Springfield, MO

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

An ear infection is the typical name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are normally found in babies and young kids but they can also affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the primary symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. Ear infections have a lot going on. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

The easiest 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 but bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear the infection happens in that defines it. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear develops, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as 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 a lot of pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. Sound waves are then obstructed by the buildup of infectious material inside the ear canal.

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

  • Ear leakage
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished hearing

For most people, hearing comes back in time. The ear canal will then open up and hearing will come back. The infection gets resolved and your hearing comes back. There are exceptions, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their life. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to trigger a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just laying inside your ear doing nothing. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never come back once they are gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum might have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, as well.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided

If you think you may have an ear infection, call a doctor as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to give up smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having trouble hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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