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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 known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially prevalent after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults too. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some hearing loss, but will it go away? To find a precise answer can be rather complicated. Ear infections have a lot of things going on. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

The easiest way to understand 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 micro-organism.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that defines it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. The eardrum will often actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be quite painful. Your failure to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The infectious material builds up and finally blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

The signs or symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:

  • Ear leakage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased ability to hear

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people get an ear infection. For others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. The ear has mechanisms along the canal that amplify the sound wave so that when it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to trigger a vibration. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria don’t merely sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you lose these bones it’s permanent. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it will probably have scar tissue affecting its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?

First and foremost, consult a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, call 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 hearing loss. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.