Otitis media is the medical name for what you more than likely call an ear infection. Ear infections such as this are often seen in babies and young kids but they can also affect adults, as well, particularly during or after a cold or sinus infection. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.
When you have an infection in the middle ear you will usually have at least some loss of hearing, but will it go away? To come up with a precise answer can be rather complicated. There are a number of factors to consider. You should understand how the injury caused by ear infections can end up affecting your hearing.
Just what is Otitis Media?
Basically, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most likely cause, but it could possibly be caused by any micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear the infection happens in that identifies it. Otitis externa, otherwise known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the pinna or outer ear. If the bacterial growth is in the cochlea, the 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 very small bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. The eardrum can actually break as a result of the pressure from this sort of infection, which tends to be really painful. That pressure is also why you can’t hear very well. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material which can then cause a loss of hearing.
A middle ear infection has the following symptoms:
- Drainage from the ear
- Ear pain
- Reduced hearing
Over time, hearing will come back for most people. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. The issue will only be resolved when the infection is resolved. Sometimes there are complications, however.
Repeated Ear Infections
Most people get 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 result in complications that mean a more significant and maybe even permanent hearing loss, especially if the issues are left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections
Chronic ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss. Put simply, sound waves don’t reach the inner ear at the proper strength. The ear has components along the canal which amplify the sound wave so that when it reaches the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, it is powerful 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 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 delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. When this takes place your ears don’t heal themselves. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it will probably have scar tissue impacting its ability to vibrate. This can also potentially be repaired with surgery.
Can This Permanent Hearing Loss be Avoided?
If you believe that you might have an ear infection, see a doctor immediately. The sooner you receive treatment, the better. If you get chronic ear infections, you shouldn’t neglect them. More damage is caused by more serious infections. Finally, take steps to lessen colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections usually start. If you smoke, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.
If you are still having difficulty hearing after getting an ear infection, see a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but you may have some damage. 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.