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

What is typically labeled as an ear infection, is medically known as otitis media or AOM. These ear infections can impact adults and children alike, particularly after a a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also result in an ear infection.

If you get an infection in the middle ear you will usually 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 going on. You should learn how the injury caused by ear infections can have an impact on your hearing.

Otitis Media, Exactly What is it?

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. It could be any type of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that defines it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. The term labyrinthitis refers to an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The three tiny bones in this area, known as ossicles, are responsible for vibrating the membranes of the inner ear. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it actually breaks. That pressure is also the reason why you don’t hear very well. The infectious material accumulates and finally blocks the ear canal enough to interfere with the movement of sound waves.

A middle ear infection includes the following symptoms:

  • Ear drainage
  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing

For most people, hearing returns over time. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away allowing the ear canal to open up. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, however.

Chronic Ear Infections

At least once in their life, the majority of people get an ear infection. The problem can become chronic for some people and they will keep getting ear infections. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is more serious and can possibly become permanent.

Conductive Hearing Loss From Chronic Ear Infections

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by repeated ear infections. Put simply, sound waves don’t get to the inner ear with enough intensity. The ear has components 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 strong enough to trigger a vibration. Sometimes something changes along this route and the sound is not properly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria don’t simply sit and do nothing in the ear when you get an ear infection. The components that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is commonly affected. It doesn’t take very much to break down these delicate bones. Once they are gone, their gone. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. In some cases, surgeons can put in prosthetic bones to fix hearing. The eardrum might have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will influence its ability to move. This can also potentially be corrected with surgery.

What Can You do to Avoid This Permanent Hearing Loss?

Most significantly, consult a doctor if you think you have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to preserve your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t ignore them. More damage will be caused by more serious infections. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take steps to prevent them. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking multiplies your risk of having chronic respiratory problems.

If you’ve had an ear infection and are still having trouble hearing, call your 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 loss of hearing. You should schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info about hearing aids.