Otitis media is the medical term for what you most likely call an ear infection. Ear infections are especially common after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults too. Even an injured tooth can lead to an ear infection.
Hearing loss is one of the primary symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it permanent? To find a complete answer can be somewhat complex. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you need to learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.
Otitis Media, What is it?
Put simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear that the infection happens in that defines it. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.
The middle ear is comprised of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate 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. Your failure to hear very well is also due to this pressure. Sound waves are then hindered by the buildup of infectious material inside the ear canal.
The signs of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear drainage
- Pain in the ear
- Reduced hearing
For the majority of people, hearing comes back over time. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are some exceptions, though.
Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more considerable and maybe even 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. This means that the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. 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. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.
Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum might have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can impact its ability to move. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.
What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?
It’s essential to see a doctor if you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having trouble hearing, see your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.