Otitis media is the medical name for what you probably call an ear infection. Ear infections are very prevalent after a sinus infection or cold and they not only affect children but adults as well. You can even get an ear infection from a bad tooth.
When you have an infection in the middle ear you will probably have some hearing loss, but will it go away? The answer to this question may be more challenging than you think. There are a number of variables to consider. To understand the potential risks, you should learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.
Just what is Otitis Media?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear basically. Bacteria is the most prevalent cause, but it might be caused by any type of micro-organism.
Ear infections are identified by where they develop in the ear. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis is caused by bacteria in the cochlea.
The space in front of the cochlea but behind the eardrum is known as the middle ear. The membranes of the inner ear are vibrated by three very small bones called ossicles which are housed in this area. An infection in this part of the ear tends to be very painful because it puts pressure on the eardrum, in most cases until it actually breaks. That pressure is also why you don’t hear very well. Sound waves are then obstructed by the accumulation 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
For most people, hearing comes back over time. Hearing will return after the pressure starts to go away permitting the ear canal to open back up. The issue will only be resolved when the infection gets better. There are some exceptions, though.
Repeated Ear Infections
Ear infections happen to most people at least once in their life. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again so they become chronic. Chronic ear infections can lead to complications that mean a more considerable and possibly permanent loss of hearing, especially if the problem is left untreated.
Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections
Conductive hearing loss can be brought on by repeated ear infections. This means that the inner ear doesn’t get sound waves at the proper strength. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the mechanisms of the ear canal and reach their maximum strength. With a 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 in the ear when you get an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The eardrum and the tiny little bones are what is usually affected. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to destroy them. If you suffer a loss of these bones it’s permanent. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. Surgically putting in prosthetic bones is one possible way that a doctor might be able to correct this. The eardrum may have scar tissue after it repairs itself, which can influence its ability to move. Surgery can fix that, as well.
Can This Permanent Damage be Prevented?
It’s important to see a doctor if you think you may have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Also, don’t ignore chronic ear infections. The more severe the infections you have, the more damage they cause. Finally, take the appropriate steps to prevent colds, allergies, and sinus infections because that is where ear infections normally start. If you are a smoker, now is the right time to stop, too, because smoking increases your risk of getting chronic respiratory issues.
If you’ve had an ear infection and still are having problems hearing, see your doctor. There are other things which can cause conductive hearing loss, but it may be possible that you may have some damage. If you find out that it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. To get more information about hearing aids, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.