Otitis media is the medical name for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections are especially prevalent after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but also adults. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.
When you get an infection in the middle ear you will probably have at least some hearing loss, but will it go away? To come up with a precise answer can be fairly complicated. There are many things going on with ear infections. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can impact your ability to hear.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any type of micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear that the infection happens in that defines it. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.
The middle ear consists of the space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea. This area has the three ossicles, or very small 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, often until it actually breaks. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then hindered by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.
A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:
- Drainage from the ear
- Pain in the ear
- Reduced ability to hear
For the majority of people, hearing returns in time. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open back up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, however.
Repeated Ear Infections
Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the inner ear can’t receive 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 mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not effectively amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.
When you have an ear infection, bacteria are not just resting in your ear doing nothing. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. Normally, this kind of damage involves the eardrum and those tiny little bones. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. Once they are gone, they stay 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 might be able to fix this. The eardrum can mend itself but it may have scar tissue affecting its ability to move. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.
Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?
It’s important to see a doctor if you think you might have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. Always get chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Finally, take steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. It’s time to give up smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that causes conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.