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

What is typically referred to as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are commonly found in infants and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the primary signs or symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? The answer to this question may be more complicated than you think. Ear infections have a lot of things taking place. To understand the potential risks, you need to know more about the injury these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

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

Ear infections are identified by where they occur in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in the front of the eardrum, the condition is called 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 consists of the area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. The eardrum can actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be really painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes hearing loss. The infectious material builds up and finally blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Reduced ability to hear

Over time, hearing will come back for the majority of people. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away allowing the ear canal to open back up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over so they become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by repeated ear infections. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not loud enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t just sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you have an ear infection. They need to eat to live and multiply, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these delicate bones. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage occurs. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum can mend itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. Surgery can fix that, as well.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

If you believe that you might have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Ear infections usually begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, see your 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 loss of hearing. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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