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Woman recovers her hearing after an ear infection and listens to her grandaughter whisper something in her ear.

An ear infection is the well-known name, but it’s medically named otitis media or AOM. Ear infections are especially common after a sinus infection or cold and they don’t only affect children but adults too. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

Just how long will hearing loss persist after an infection of the middle ear? To come up with a precise answer can be fairly complex. There are many things happening with ear infections. To understand the risks, you should learn more about the harm these infections can cause and how they affect hearing.

Exactly what is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could be any kind of microorganism causing the infection but bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection occurs in that defines it. The outer ear, which is medically known as the pinna, is where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.

The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. This area has the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break because of the pressure from this type of infection, which tends to be extremely painful. That pressure is also why you don’t hear very well. The ear canal can be clogged by infectious material that will then cause a loss of hearing.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Leakage from the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Decreased ability to hear

For most people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will open back up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When this happens, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are already amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy inside your 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. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. Once they are gone, their gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to repair hearing. The eardrum might have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can impact its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.

What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?

It’s essential to see a doctor if you think you might have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. The more serious the infections you have, the more harm they will cause. Ear infections typically start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to prevent them. If you smoke, now is the time to quit, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having trouble hearing, call your doctor. Other things can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. 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.