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

An ear infection is the popular name, but it’s medically named otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are very common after a sinus infection or cold and they not only affect children but adults too. Even a bad tooth can cause an ear infection.

If you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually have some hearing loss, but how long will it last? To come up with a complete answer can be fairly complicated. There are quite a few variables to take into consideration. To understand the potential risks, you need to learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

Put simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria are the most common cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.

The principal way in which an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The space 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 tiny bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

For most people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people experience an ear infection at least once in their life. The issues can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more significant and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by repeated ear infections. Which means that the inner ear doesn’t receive sound waves at the proper intensity. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so by the time it gets to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to cause a vibration. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t just sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you get an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. These bones will never come back once they are gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum may have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can affect its ability to vibrate. Surgery can correct that, also.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Prevented

It’s essential to see a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection examined by a doctor. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections normally begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory issues.

If you are still having difficulty hearing after having an ear infection, consult a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.