Otitis media is the medical name for what you most likely call an ear infection. Ear infections just like this are commonly found in babies and young children 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 get an infection in the middle ear you will most likely have some hearing loss, but how long will it last? To find a precise answer can be fairly complex. There are quite a few factors to take into account. There is damage which can be caused that you need to understand and also how that injury can impact your hearing.
Exactly what is Otitis Media?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most common cause, but it may be caused by any micro-organism.
It’s what part of the ear 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 known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, otherwise known as labyrinthitis is brought about by bacteria in the cochlea.
The area in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is called the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three little bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. An infection in this area tends to be very painful because it puts a lot of pressure on the eardrum, often until it breaks. This pressure is not only painful, it also causes hearing loss. Sound waves are then obstructed by the buildup of infectious material in the ear canal.
The signs or symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:
- Ear leakage
- Pain in the ear
- Diminished ability to hear
Usually, hearing will come back in the course of time. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away permitting the ear canal to open back up. This will only happen when the infection is resolved. There are exceptions, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
The majority of people get an ear infection at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again and they will become chronic. Because of complications, these people’s hearing loss is worse and can possibly become permanent.
Conductive Hearing Loss From Ear Infections
Conductive hearing loss can be caused by chronic ear infections. As a result, the inner ear doesn’t receive sound waves at the proper strength. 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 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 don’t simply sit and do nothing in the ear when you get an ear infection. They need to eat to survive, so they break down those components that amplify sound waves. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is commonly affected. It doesn’t take very much to break down these delicate bones. If you lose these bones they don’t grow back. You don’t just get your hearing back once this damage happens. Surgically installing prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor may be able to fix this. The eardrum may have some scar tissue after it repairs itself, which will influence its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.
Can This Permanent Damage be Avoided?
It’s important to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. You shouldn’t wait if you want to protect your hearing. If you have chronic ear infections, don’t neglect them. The more severe the infections you have, the more harm they cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is how ear infections typically start. It’s time to stop smoking because it causes chronic respiratory issues which can, in turn, lead to ear infections.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having trouble hearing, call your doctor. It is possible you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. 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.