Otitis media is the medical term for what you most likely call an ear infection. Ear infections just like this are usually seen in infants and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.
Exactly how long will hearing loss persist after an infection of the middle ear? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. There are quite a few variables to consider. You should understand how the damage caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.
Otitis Media, What is it?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it could be caused by any micro-organism.
Ear infections are identified by where they manifest in the ear. 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. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The middle ear consists of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area contains the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which tends to be really painful. This pressure is not only painful, it causes hearing loss. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.
A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:
- Leakage from the ear
- Ear pain
- Decreased ability to hear
For most people, hearing returns over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, however.
Chronic Ear Infections
Most people get an ear infection at least once in their life. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause complications that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections
Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. Which means that the inner ear can’t receive sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to cause a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.
When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just laying inside your ear doing nothing. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this type of damage involves the eardrum and the tiny little bones. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. When this happens your ears don’t heal themselves. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum can repair itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.
This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided
First and foremost, see a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t neglect chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to prevent them. It’s time to give up smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. It could be possible that 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 will help you hear again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.