Will my Hearing Loss be Permanent After an Ear Infection?

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

What is commonly labeled as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can impact children as well as adults, especially after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some loss of hearing, but will it go away? The answer to this question may be more challenging than you think. There are many factors to take into account. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

The main way in which an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. 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 caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are located in this area. The eardrum can actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be quite painful. That pressure is also why you can’t hear very well. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

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

Usually, hearing will return in the course of time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. The infection gets better and your hearing comes back. There are exceptions, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by repeated ear infections. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and behave themselves in the ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it may have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?

It’s important to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. If you smoke, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, call your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.