Otitis media is the medical name for what you most likely call an ear infection. Ear infections like this are normally found 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 if you have a bad tooth.
Hearing loss is one of the major indications of an infection inside the middle ear. But is it permanent? You might not realize it but there is no simple answer. Ear infections have a lot taking place. There is damage that can be caused that you need to understand and also how this damage can impact your ability to hear.
Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?
Simply put, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it may be caused by any micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear the infection appears in that identifies it. The outer ear, which is called the pinna, is the part of the ear where swimmer’s ear occurs, which is called otitis externa. The term labyrinthitis refers to an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.
The area 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. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this type of infection, which is likely to be very painful. This pressure is not only very painful, it also causes hearing loss. The ear canal can be plugged by infectious material which can then result in a loss of hearing.
The signs or symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear drainage
- Pain in the ear
- Decreased ability to hear
Over time, hearing will return for most people. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away enabling the ear canal to open back up. The infection gets better and your hearing returns. There are some exceptions, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
At least once in their life, the majority of people experience an ear infection. For other people, the problem becomes chronic, so they have infections again and again. Chronic ear infections can lead to problems that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the problem is neglected.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections can sometimes lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the inner ear can’t receive sound waves at the proper strength. The ear has mechanisms along the canal that amplify the sound wave so by the time it gets to 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 as much.
Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are decomposed and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is normally done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. Once they are gone, they stay gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to correct this. The eardrum can restore itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to vibrate. Surgery can correct that, as well.
What Can You do to Counter This Permanent Hearing Loss?
Most significantly, consult a doctor if you believe that you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. Also, don’t overlook chronic ear infections. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Ear infections typically begin with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to avoid them. It’s time to stop smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. Hearing aids can be very helpful if you have permanent loss of hearing. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.