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

An ear infection is the typical name, but it’s medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections such as this are usually seen in infants and young children but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.

If you have an infection in the middle ear you will probably have some loss of hearing, but will it go away? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. There are quite a few variables to take into account. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can impact your ability to hear.

What is Otitis Media?

The easiest way to comprehend otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any type of micro-organism.

Ear infections are defined by where they develop in the ear. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. If the bacterial growth occurs in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which is likely to be very painful. Your inability to hear very well is also due to this pressure. The infectious material builds up and finally blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

For the majority of people, hearing returns over time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens. The infection gets better and your hearing comes back. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over so they become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can even become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. Essentially, sound waves don’t make it to the inner ear with enough strength. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. Typically, this type of damage includes the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to break down these delicate bones. Once they are gone, their gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum can fix itself but it will probably have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, also.

What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Above all, consult a doctor if you believe you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having difficulties hearing, call your doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids will help you hear once again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more information on hearing aids.