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

What is commonly labeled as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an affect on children as well as adults, particularly after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

If you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually have at least some hearing loss, but will it go away? To come up with a precise answer can be rather complex. There are many things going on with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you should know more about the harm these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

What is Otitis Media?

To put it simply, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

Ear infections are identified by where they develop in the ear. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. Your failure to hear very well is also because of this pressure. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to obstruct the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced ability to hear

Usually, hearing will return eventually. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will return. The infection gets resolved and your hearing comes back. There are some exceptions, however.

Repeated 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 having ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by repeated ear infections. When this happens the inner ear can’t get sound waves at the proper intensity. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the components of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified as much.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to survive, 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 break down these fragile bones. Once they are gone, they stay 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 might have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will influence its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Above all, see a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t neglect chronic ear infections. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. If you smoke, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having problems hearing, call your doctor. It is possible 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.