An ear infection is the popular name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are very prevalent after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but also adults. Even a bad tooth can bring on an ear infection.
Exactly how long will loss of hearing persist after having an infection of the middle ear? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. There are quite a few factors to take into account. 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?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.
Ear infections are identified by where they occur in the ear. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear develops, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis refers to an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.
The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny 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, often until it actually breaks. That pressure is also why you don’t hear very well. Sound waves are then hindered by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.
The signs or symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear drainage
- Ear pain
- Reduced ability to hear
Usually, hearing will come back eventually. Hearing will return after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, 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 so they become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by chronic ear infections. In other words, sound waves don’t make it to the inner ear with enough strength. The ear has components along the canal that 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 something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.
Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. Typically, this kind of damage includes the eardrum and those tiny little bones. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. If you suffer a loss of these bones they don’t grow back. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can mend itself but it might have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.
What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?
It’s essential to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always have chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. It’s time to give up smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which can, 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 it may be possible that you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.