Ear infections are one of the most common reasons why people visit the hospital. From infants to adults, it can affect all ages. There are plenty of reasons for ear infections – cold, sinusitis, toothaches, swimming. But, does it lead to permanent hearing loss? Let’s find out the link between ear infections and hearing troubles.
What is an ear infection, and how does it impact hearing?
Though commonly referred to as ear infection, the medical term for it is Otitis Medis or AOM. Depending on where it occurs, it can be classified as follows:
- Swimmer’s ear (Otitis externa) – It’s an infection of the outer ear canal. Swelling and inflammation of the ear canal, prevent sound from entering the middle ear, leading to temporary ear blockages.
- Middle ear infection (Otitis media) – Pus and swelling in the middle ear prevent sound from reaching the inner ear.
- Accumulation of fluid in the space behind the eardrum – Known as otitis media with effusion, the fluid leads to sound distortion.
Apart from these, ear infections can also occur due to viral infections. An infection of the cochlea (the main organ responsible for hearing) can lead to sudden hearing loss. Cochlear infections may lead to partial, irreversible hearing losses.
Symptoms of Ear Infections
If you’re concerned that your child or an adult family member is having an ear infection, look out for these signs:
Symptoms in Children:
- Constant scratching or pulling at the ears
- Secretions from the ear
- Slowed response to sounds and voices
Symptoms in Adults:
- Dizziness or imbalance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty in understanding speech
- Constant pressure in the ears
What happens in your ear when it’s infected?
When an ear infection occurs, bacteria, virus, or other micro-organisms start growing in the delicate canals of the ear. These organisms need food to survive and start chewing the eardrum, the tiny little bones of the ear, cochlea, and other parts.
As parts of the inner ear are highly fragile, the overgrowth of bacteria can damage them permanently. Once damaged, the parts of the ear cannot regenerate, leading to loss of hearing.
Can Ear Infections lead to Permanent Hearing Loss?
Generally, no. Most ear infections go away on their own or with the help of OTC medications. In rare cases, if left untreated, it can result in permanent hearing loss.
People who are prone to chronic ear infections may have a loss of hearing. Chronic ear infections damage the functioning of the auditory nerves. When this occurs, the nerves fail to amplify sound waves to the right levels, leading to loss of hearing.
Conductive Hearing Loss due to Ear Infections
Generally, most ear infections lead to a temporary conductive hearing loss. Let’s take a closer look at the working of the middle ear to see what happens when your ear is infected.
The middle ear receives sounds from the outer ear canal and passes it to the auditory nerve. An infection causes a block in the middle ear, which prevents sounds from passing through. Accumulation of wax, fluids, or bacteria in the ear canal leads to conductive hearing loss.
Most conductive hearing losses are temporary and can be treated with generic OTC medications. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics that treat the infection. Once the inflammation caused by the infection subsides, the hearing loss returns to normal.
What to do if you have trouble hearing due to an ear infection?
You must consult your doctor immediately and have your hearing tested. If the hearing does not return to normal after treating the infection, the physician may refer you to a hearing professional. The hearing professional runs several diagnostic tests to determine the loss of hearing and what needs to be done.
In most cases, the hearing professional prescribes medicines to treat the loss of hearing. If that’s not possible, he/she may require you to buy hearing aids online or at a dispensary.