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.

An ear infection is the typical name, but it’s medically referred to as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can have an affect on adults and children alike, especially after a cold or sinus infection. Even an injured tooth can bring on an ear infection.

When you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have some loss of hearing, but will it go away? You might not recognize it but the answer can be complicated. Ear infections have a lot of things going on. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can impact your hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

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

Ear infections are identified by where they manifest in the ear. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. The term labyrinthitis describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

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 very small bones called ossicles which are located in this area. The eardrum can actually break due to the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be very painful. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes hearing loss. The infectious material accumulates and finally blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.

The symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:

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

For the majority of people, hearing comes back over time. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates allowing the ear canal to open up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, most people experience an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the issues are neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. Essentially, sound waves can’t get 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 mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just laying inside your ear doing nothing. They need to eat to survive, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. Usually, this type of damage involves the eardrum and those tiny little bones. It doesn’t take very much to break down these delicate bones. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. 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 may have scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can influence its ability to vibrate. Surgery can correct that, as well.

Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?

It’s essential to see a doctor when you think you might have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t neglect them. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Ear infections typically start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to prevent them. If you smoke, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of getting chronic respiratory issues.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see 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 can help you hear again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.