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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 known as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but adults too. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the major symptoms of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? To find a complete answer can be somewhat complex. Ear infections have a lot happening. To understand the risks, you should learn more about the injury these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Basically, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

The primary way an infection is specified is by what part of the ear is infected. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is known as the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three tiny bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. The eardrum will often actually break due to the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be extremely painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then obstructed by the buildup of infectious material in the ear canal.

A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:

  • Ear leakage
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

For most people, hearing returns in time. The pressure goes away and the ear canal opens up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. There are exceptions, however.

Chronic 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 getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. When this happens the inner ear doesn’t receive sound waves at the proper intensity. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the components of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. They must eat to live and multiply, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. Usually, this type of damage includes the eardrum and the tiny little bones. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum might have scar tissue once it repairs itself, which can impact its ability to vibrate. Surgery can fix that, as well.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

Above all, see a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you get chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. More damage is caused by more severe infections. Finally, take steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to quit, too, because smoking increases your risk of getting chronic respiratory problems.

If you are still having problems hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.