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.

Otitis media is the medical name for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections are especially common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but adults as well. Even an injured tooth can cause an ear infection.

Exactly how long will hearing loss last after having an infection of the middle ear? You might not recognize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot happening. You should learn how the damage caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.

The principal 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. The term labyrinthitis describes an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is referred to as the middle ear. This area houses the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum can actually break due to the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be really painful. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then blocked by the buildup of infectious material in the ear canal.

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

  • Ear leakage
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased hearing

Usually, hearing will return eventually. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Chronic Ear Infections

Most people experience an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections over and over and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by chronic ear infections. Essentially, sound waves can’t make it to the inner ear at the proper intensity. The ear has components along the canal that amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is strong enough to create a vibration. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is called conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and behave themselves inside the ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very fragile and it doesn’t take much to break them up. If you lose these bones it’s permanent. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it might have scar tissue affecting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.

This Permanent Damage Can be Avoided

It’s essential to consult a doctor if you think you might have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more serious 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 stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are 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. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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.