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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 term for what you more than likely call an ear infection. Ear infections such as this are often found in babies and young children but they can affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

Hearing loss is one of the major signs and symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? To come up with a complete answer can be rather complicated. Ear infections have a lot of things happening. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

The easiest way to comprehend 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 principal way an infection is defined is by what part of the ear is infected. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. The term labyrinthitis describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. This area has the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be quite painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes hearing loss. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

Usually, hearing will return eventually. Hearing will return after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open back up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people get an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can lead to complications that mean a more significant and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. 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 amplified by the components of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just laying in your ear doing nothing. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Usually, this type of damage involves the eardrum and the tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. These bones will never come back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can fix itself but it will probably have scar tissue affecting its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, also.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Avoided?

If you believe that you might have an ear infection, call a doctor as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections normally begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having trouble hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear once again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.