Can Middle Ear Infections Cause Hearing Loss?

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Can Middle Ear Infections Cause Hearing Loss?

Ear infections and hearing loss

A hearing loss can be the product of many factors, including the aging process, injury, prolonged noise exposure, and heredity. These culprits affect your auditory nerve causing a sensorineural hearing loss. An infection of the middle ear can also cause you to have a hearing loss. Infections in the middle ear cause an accumulation of excess fluid. This excessive fluid obstructs the movement of the eardrum resulting in a conductive hearing loss. Thankfully, this type of hearing loss is usually only temporary.

The Symptoms

Conductive hearing loss disturbs your ability to understand the loudness of sounds, but not the clarity of sounds. This hearing loss may present with the following symptoms:

  • A constant earache
  • A feeling of pressure in your ear
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Nausea
  • An odor emanating from the ear

How it Happens

Middle ear infections typically occur after an upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold. Upper respiratory infections cause inflammation and swelling of the back of the throat, including the Eustachian tube. The tube, which connects the throat to the middle ear, becomes swollen and is no longer able to balance the pressure in the middle ear. As the pressure mounts, the normal secretions of the ear can’t drain. The combination of pressure and fluid causes ear pain, pressure, dizziness, and temporary hearing loss.

Risk Factors

There are risk considerations that make some people prone to getting middle ear infections. A few of these risk factors include:

  • Children are more vulnerable to ear infections due to the size and shape of their eustachian tubes and because their immune system is still developing.
  • Seasonal factors. Middle ear infections are most common in the fall and the winter. If you suffer from cyclical allergies, you are at an elevated risk of acquiring a middle ear infection.
  • Poor air quality. Air pollution and exposure to tobacco smoke increase the risk of middle ear infections.
  • Cleft palate. The difference in the bone structure and muscles in children with cleft palate makes it challenging for the Eustachian tube to drain.

Apart from a temporary hearing loss, the complications of a middle ear infection may include speech and developmental delays, tearing of the eardrum, and the spread of the infection.

Treatment

A conductive hearing loss resulting from a middle ear infection is reversible if you manage it with the correct treatment. If fluid builds up in your ear without resolution, the pressure can rupture your eardrum. Although you can manage a middle ear infection at home, it is best to seek professional care. A hearing healthcare professional can safely remove ear wax and excessive fluid from your ear to relieve the pain associated with a middle ear infection. If an infection is present, antibiotics and other procedures can treat it. Once treatment takes place, your temporary conductive hearing loss should resolve. After treatment, if your hearing does not return to normal, a hearing healthcare professional can prescribe hearing aids to address the unresolved hearing loss.

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