Otitis media is the medical term for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections are very common after a cold or sinus infection and they not only affect children but also adults. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.
If you get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have at least some loss of hearing, but will it go away? To come up with a complete answer can be somewhat complex. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. To understand the potential risks, you should know more about the damage these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.
Just what is Otitis Media?
The simplest way to understand otitis media is that it’s an infection of the middle ear. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.
It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that identifies it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.
The middle ear is comprised of the space 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 situated in this area. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this sort of infection, which is likely to be really painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes a loss of hearing. The infectious material accumulates and finally blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.
A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:
- Ear leakage
- Ear pain
- Diminished ability to hear
For the majority of people, hearing comes back in time. The ear canal will then open up and hearing will return. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. There are exceptions, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again and they will become chronic. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are neglected.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. This means that the inner ear doesn’t receive sound waves at the proper 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 power. When you have conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.
Bacteria don’t just sit and do nothing in the ear when you have an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and also the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum may have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will impact its ability to move. Surgery can deal with that, as well.
This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided
It’s essential to see a doctor if you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take the appropriate steps to avoid colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids are very helpful if you have permanent hearing loss. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.