Otitis media is the medical name for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections such as this are often seen in infants and young children but they can affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection if you have a bad tooth.
Just how long will hearing loss last after you get an infection of the middle ear? You might not realize it but the answer can be complicated. Ear infections have a lot happening. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that damage can affect your hearing.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it could be caused by any type of micro-organism.
The main way an infection is defined is by what part of the ear it occurs in. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear happens, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis refers to an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.
The space behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is called the middle ear. This area houses the three ossicles, or tiny bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, usually until it actually breaks. That pressure is also why you don’t hear very well. The infectious material accumulates and blocks the ear canal enough to hinder the movement of sound waves.
The symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Leakage from the ear
- Pain in the ear
- Diminished hearing
Usually, hearing will come back in the course of time. Hearing will come back after the pressure dissipates permitting the ear canal to open up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.
Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections affect most people at least once in their life. For other people, the issues become chronic, so they have infections over and over. Chronic ear infections can result in problems that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the issues are left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections
Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. When this happens, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. The ear has mechanisms 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. 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 inside the ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. It doesn’t take very much to destroy these fragile bones. Once they are gone, they stay gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In some cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it might have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. Surgery can correct that, also.
What Can You do to Prevent This Permanent Hearing Loss?
If you think you may have an ear infection, call a doctor immediately. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always have chronic ear infection checked by a doctor. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Ear infections usually begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to prevent them. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory problems which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having difficulties hearing, see your doctor. It could be possible that 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 hearing loss. To get more info about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.