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

Otitis media is the medical name for what you probably call an ear infection. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in 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 might be more challenging than you think. There are a lot of things going on with ear infections. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how this injury can affect your hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

The easiest way to understand otitis media is that it’s 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 in which an infection is defined is by what part of the ear is infected. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear develops, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are located in this area. The eardrum will often actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which is likely to be really painful. Your failure to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and finally blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are some exceptions, however.

Repeated Ear Infections

The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Chronic ear infections can cause complications that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the issues are left untreated.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic 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. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and do nothing inside the ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is commonly affected. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you suffer a loss of these bones they don’t grow back. When this occurs your ears don’t heal themselves. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will affect its ability to move. Surgery can correct that, as well.

Can This Permanent Damage be Prevented?

If you think you may have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections typically start. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having trouble hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear once again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.