Can an Ear Infection Cause Long-Term Hearing Loss?

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. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they don’t only affect children but adults as well. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

How long will loss of hearing last after an infection of the middle ear? To find a precise answer can be somewhat complex. There are many things happening with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you need to learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

The simplest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any type of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are defined by where they develop in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The middle ear is comprised of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The three little bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. Your inability to hear very well is also because of 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:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Diminished hearing

Over time, hearing will come back for the majority of people. The pressure dissipates and the ear canal opens. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their life. For others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear doesn’t receive sound waves at the proper intensity. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful enough to cause a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

When you get an ear infection, bacteria are not just resting inside your ear doing nothing. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. 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 some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum may have some scar tissue once it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to move. Surgery can fix that, as well.

Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Prevented?

If you think you might have an ear infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always get chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Ear infections usually begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to give up smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems 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 once again. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Questions? Talk To Us.