Can an Ear Infection Cause Hearing Loss?

Winter is a time of year when coughs, colds, influenza and viral infections are more common. During this time of the year, ear infections can also be more common. Although ear infections tend to be more common in children, adults can also be at risk of catching one.

Ear infections can occur within the outer, middle or inner ear, and can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. The ear infection can cause a blockage in your ear, which prevents sounds from transmitting to the inner ear, causing hearing loss.

How Can an Ear Infection Cause Hearing Loss?

There are a number of different types of ear infections that can impact your hearing. Treatment will depend on the type of ear infection, which is why it’s important to work with your primary healthcare provider. Most hearing loss that is caused by an ear infection can be reversed when treated appropriately.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of ear infection that can cause hearing loss.

Otitis Media- Middle Ear Inflammation/Infection

When the eustachian tube (which connects the middle ear to the throat) cannot drain, it becomes clogged. This happens when bacteria, i.e. from a cold has led to a buildup of pus and mucus behind the eardrum. When bacteria continues to thrive, earache and fever follow.

If left untreated, the blockage may cause permanent damage to the structures of the middle ear leading to permanent hearing loss. However when treated, most hearing loss from a middle ear infection is temporary, reversing once the tube is clear again.

Otitis Externa- Inflammation/Infection of the Outer Ear

The outer ear refers to the ear canal which connects to the eardrum. Often called ‘swimmer’s ear’, this infection is typically caused by water trapped in the canal. When the ear canal becomes infected and blocked, sound is prevented from travelling to the middle ear. Typically once this blockage is gone, hearing returns to normal.

However, a serious infection called serous otitis externa can occur in those with a weakened immune system and when certain aggressive bacteria are present. This condition presents with progressive hearing loss and severe pain and can potentially spread to the tissue of the jaw and face. It requires urgent treatment.

Otitis Interna - Inner Ear Infection

Less common but more serious is an inner ear inflammation, impacting the main sensory organ - the cochlea. Conditions such as labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, can be related to infection and can impact hearing and balance systems.

Viral infections such as Meningitis impact this area too, and are most concerning for hearing loss due to its sudden nature and higher chance of being permanent. Treatment can help reduce the damage, but the amount of hearing loss varies from case to case.

We're Here to Help You!

If you suffer with frequent ear infections we recommend regular hearing tests. Prompt treatment is the best way to protect your hearing, so consult a doctor about potential infections. Alternatively, in the weeks following an illness or if you have any concerns that your hearing has changed following an illness - please arrange a consultation at your earliest convenience. Contact the hearing healthcare professionals at Family Audiology by calling 607-323-4061 or click here to book a consultation with us online.

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