Ear Infections & Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

There are a number of causes of hearing loss. You’re probably already familiar with some of them. Older adults can experience hearing loss as part of the natural aging process. Younger adults may have hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise. Other causes of hearing loss can include an injury, or even hereditary factors. Ear infections may also lead to hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Loss

To understand your hearing loss, it’s important to know what kind of hearing loss you have.

Sensorineural hearing loss is a hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear. For example, as the cells in the ear age, they can be damaged, or even die. Excessively loud noises can also damage the cells in the inner ear and cause sensorineural hearing loss.

The second type of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss. This hearing loss is due to damage in the middle ear, or a blockage of the ear canal. For example, a buildup of earwax in the ear canal can lead to conductive hearing loss. Some of the common causes of conductive hearing loss are:

  • A build-up of earwax in the ear canal
  • A hole in the ear drum, known as a perforated eardrum
  • A head injury
  • An ear infection

The third type of hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, is a combination of the above two.

Ear Infections and Conductive Hearing Loss

Ear infections can often lead to conductive hearing loss. An infection in the ear can cause a buildup of fluid, either in the ear canal or in the middle ear. An ear infection in the ear canal is called swimmers ear, and an ear infection of the middle ear is known as otitis media. The symptoms of a middle ear infection can include a painful earache, a buildup of pressure in the ear, hearing loss, dizziness, and nausea.

Understanding the Middle Ear

When the middle ear isn’t working properly, like when you have an ear infection, you’ll experience conductive hearing loss. So what exactly does the middle ear do? The middle ear is like a drum. When the sound waves hit the outside of the middle ear, it causes the eardrum to vibrate. This moves the ossicles, the three tiny bones in the middle ear. The ossicles send this vibration into the fluid-filled inner ear, where the movement is interpreted as electrical signals and sent to the brain.

Ear Infections and Hearing Loss

When fluid builds up in the middle ear, the eardrum and the ossicles can’t move normally. Restricting the movement of the middle ear means that sounds won’t reach your inner ear, and you will experience hearing loss. This hearing loss is often characterized by a feeling that your ears are stuffed, or that all the sounds around you seem faint and muffled.

Treating Ear Infections

If you have an ear infection, visit your doctor as soon as possible. The buildup of fluid in the middle ear can be painful and cause a feeling of pressure in the ear. An untreated ear infection leads to swelling and inflammation and can sometimes rupture the eardrum. Depending on the cause of the ear infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. The good news is that the ear infection will probably clear up after a few days. The pressure and pain will ease, and your hearing will return to normal.

If you have recurring ear infections, you may need another treatment option. Your doctor may recommend inserting a small tube in the eardrum to help drain any buildup of fluid before it leads to an infection.

Is Conductive Hearing Loss Permanent?

If you have an ear infection, you can experience conductive hearing loss. Ear infections usually only last a few days, so this conductive hearing loss is often temporary. Once the ear infection has cleared up and the fluid in the ear drains, your hearing will return to normal.

Treating Hearing Loss

If you have a permanent hearing loss, visit us to find out more about your hearing needs. We’ll start with a hearing test to find out exactly what sounds you’re struggling to hear. Then, we’ll work with you to find the perfect hearing devices that will help you hear clearly.