Alongside age and overexposure to noise, ear infections are one of the leading causes of hearing loss. Hearing loss induced by ear infections, however, is generally temporary or reversible.
Although ear infections are common, it is important that they are treated properly. If you or someone you know has symptoms of ear infections, seek medical attention. Symptoms include:
Ear pain Pressure from fluid buildup Fluid Leaking from ears Fever or uncomfortable hearing in the ear(s) Headache
An ear infection may lead to inflammation of the outer ear (otitis externa), in which the ear canal swells and blocks sound from moving to the middle ear. This condition, referred to as “swimmer’s ear,” is often caused by excessive amount of water in the ear, but can be brought on by other things as well, such as the use of a cotton swab. Hearing usually returns to its normal state after the infection goes away.
A middle ear infection (otitis media) may involve swelling and buildup of pus. Although rare, untreated middle ear infections may result in permanent damage to the structure of the middle ear that induces permanent hearing loss. Most ear infections get better on their own, but antibiotics may be needed.
Fluid from an infection can sometimes buildup behind the eardrum and distort or block sound. This fluid usually clears itself out, but the eardrum may be permanently damaged if the middle ear remains infected.
The most potentially devastating ear infection would be a viral infection of the cochlea (the main sensory organ of hearing). This viral infection can induce sudden hearing loss that may or may not be recoverable.
Successive and reoccurring middle ear infections and hearing loss are concerns that should be taken seriously. Consult a medical profession, such as an audiologist or general practitioner, if an ear infection does not go away, if you experience sudden hearing loss, or if ear infections are commonplace.