What is typically referred to as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are often seen in babies and young children but they can affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.
When you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually have some loss of hearing, but how long will it last? To come up with a precise answer can be fairly complicated. There are many things going on with ear infections. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.
Exactly what is Otitis Media?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.
It’s what part of the ear the infection appears in that identifies it. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. 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. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three tiny bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, usually until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. The ear canal can be clogged by infectious material that can then cause a loss of hearing.
A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:
- Ear leakage
- Ear pain
- Diminished hearing
For most people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will open back up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, however.
Chronic Ear Infections
Most people get an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can lead to complications that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections
Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by repeated ear infections. When this occurs, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. 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. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.
Bacteria don’t just sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you get an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Usually, this kind 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. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum can restore itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. Surgery can correct that, also.
Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?
It’s essential to consult a doctor when you think you might have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more serious 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 quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory problems.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. If it turns out 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.