What is typically labeled as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections like this are commonly seen in babies and young kids but they can affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.
When you have an infection in the middle ear you will usually have some hearing loss, but will it go away? The answer to this question may be more challenging than you might think. Ear infections have a lot taking place. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.
Just what is Otitis Media?
To put it simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.
The primary 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 front of the eardrum, the condition is otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three tiny bones called ossicles which are located in this area. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be quite painful. That pressure is also the reason why you can’t hear very well. The ear canal can be blocked by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.
The signs of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear leakage
- Pain in the ear
- Reduced ability to hear
Usually, hearing will come back in the course of time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, however.
Repeated Ear Infections
Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. For some others, the issues become chronic, so they have infections over and over. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections
Ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. 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 gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is intense enough to create a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.
When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just resting inside your ear doing nothing. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this kind of damage involves the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. If you lose these bones it’s permanent. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.
What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?
Most significantly, consult a doctor if you believe that you 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. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections typically start. If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory troubles.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, call your doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information about hearing aids.