Can an Ear Infection Cause Long-Term Hearing Loss?

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

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

Hearing loss is one of the primary indications of an infection in the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? The answer to this question may be more challenging than you might think. Ear infections have a lot happening. To understand the risks, you need to know more about the harm these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

The easiest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.

The principal way an infection is specified is by what part of the ear it occurs in. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The middle ear consists of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The three tiny bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating 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 the reason why you don’t hear very well. The infectious material builds up and blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Diminished ability to hear

For most people, hearing returns over time. Hearing will come back after the pressure starts to go away enabling the ear canal to open back up. The infection gets resolved and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again so they become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by chronic ear infections. When this happens, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. 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 cause a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. They need to eat to live and multiply, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. Usually, this kind of damage involves the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to break down these fragile bones. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can restore itself but it might have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

If you think you might have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection checked by a doctor. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections typically start. It’s time to give up smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes 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 information on hearing aids.

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