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 such as this are commonly seen in infants and young kids but they can affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

When you have an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have some hearing loss, but how long will it last? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot of things taking place. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Otitis Media, What is it?

Simply put, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it may be caused by any type of micro-organism.

Ear infections are defined by where they develop in the ear. Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the medical term is labyrinthitis or inner ear infection.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are situated in this area. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, usually until it actually breaks. That pressure is also the reason why you don’t hear very well. Sound waves are then blocked by the accumulation of infectious material inside the ear canal.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased ability to hear

For the majority of people, hearing returns over time. The ear canal will then open back up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. For some others, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections over and over. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so by the time it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful enough to trigger a vibration. With a conductive hearing loss, something changes along that route and the sound isn’t amplified quite as much.

Bacteria are very busy inside your ear when you have an ear infection. They need to eat to survive, so they break down those mechanisms that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is normally affected. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. Once they are gone, their gone. When this happens your ears don’t heal themselves. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum can fix itself but it might have scar tissue affecting its ability to move. Surgery can fix that, also.

What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?

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. Also, don’t neglect chronic ear infections. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Finally, take steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections typically start. If you smoke, now is the time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory issues.

If you are still having problems hearing after getting an ear infection, consult a 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 will 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.