An ear infection is the accepted name, but it’s medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, especially after a sinus infection or a cold. Even a bad tooth can lead to an ear infection.
Just how long will hearing loss persist after an infection of the middle ear? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. Ear infections have a lot going on. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how this damage can affect your hearing.
Exactly what is Otitis Media?
Simply put, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it could possibly be caused by any type of micro-organism.
Ear infections are defined by where they develop in the ear. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. The term labyrinthitis describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.
The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The three little bones in this area, called ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes hearing loss. The infectious material builds up and blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.
The signs of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Leakage from the ear
- Pain in the ear
- Reduced ability to hear
For most people, hearing returns in time. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away permitting the ear canal to open up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, though.
Chronic Ear Infections
At least once in their life, most people get an ear infection. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more significant and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by chronic ear infections. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. With a 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 in your ear doing nothing. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can fix itself but it may have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.
This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided
Most significantly, consult a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory issues.
If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having problems hearing, see your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.