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 probably call an ear infection. These ear infections can affect adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. Even a bad tooth can bring on an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? To come up with a precise answer can be fairly complex. There are quite a few variables to consider. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how this damage can affect your ability to hear.

Exactly 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.

Ear infections are defined by where they occur in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is referred to as the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which is likely to be really painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. Sound waves are then blocked by the accumulation of infectious material inside of the ear canal.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced hearing

Eventually, hearing will come back for most people. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

The majority of people experience an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. For other people, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. In other words, sound waves can’t make it to the inner ear with enough intensity. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful 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 don’t merely sit and behave themselves in the ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will affect its ability to move. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

This Permanent Damage Can be Prevented

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. Always have chronic ear infection checked by a doctor. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. It’s time to quit smoking because it causes chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information on hearing aids.

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