Healthy hearing is something that most of us take for granted until we begin to experience issues. Ear infections are perhaps the most common issue with millions of Americans facing them at least once. While many people associate them primarily with children, infections can strike at any age. But can they cause hearing loss in adults?

It’s a question that every audiologist is asked several times every year by concerned patients who have an ear infection. Here’s everything you need to know about adult ear infections and their link to hearing loss.

Firstly, what Exactly Is an Ear Infection?

An ear infection is a viral or bacterial infection that may affect the inner, middle or outer ear. They commonly fall into one of two categories:

  • Inner ear infections: This is when inflammation occurs behind the eardrum and causes fluid buildups in the middle ear. Also known as otitis media, it could be characterized as acute, an effusion, chronic or adhesive. Acute otitis media, which is when the eustachian tube becomes inflamed is the most common by far.
  • Outer ear infections: This is when an infection impacts the ear canal and outer ear rather than the areas behind the eardrum. The condition known as swimmer’s ear is a very common example of outer ear infections, which are medically known as otitis externa.

The risk of ear infections in adults can be increased by weak immune systems or damaged ear structures. However, they are primarily caused by germs, bacteria, viruses or fungus infections, which is why anybody may experience them.

Do Ear Infections Cause Hearing Loss?

No two ear infections are the same and one person may experience varying symptoms from another. Nevertheless, hearing loss is one of the most commonly reported side effects. The hearing loss may be defined as muffled or decreased volume. Either way, this is usually due to the blockages caused by inflammation and trapped fluids as this can inhibit the transmission of sound vibrations. In some cases, it will also result in symptoms of tinnitus.

The good news, then, is that this type of hearing loss is only temporary. Once the fluid has drained and the inflamed cells have returned to normal, it is likely that any hearing loss will disappear too. Most people that speak to an audiologist about infection-induced hearing loss are advised that the issues should correct themselves in 72 hours. In more severe cases, though, it could take several months for the fluid to fully drain and normal hearing to return.

While any hearing loss caused by ear infections is usually temporary, it should be noted that repeated infections and inflammations can cause permanent damage to the structure of the middle ear as well as the eardrum, which may lead to permanent hearing loss or accelerate the rate of regression for individuals who are already known to experience mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Depending on the type of ear infection, you may also experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Pain behind the ear
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Minor bleeding
  • Pus leakages
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness in the ear

Temporary hearing loss caused by ear infections isn’t usually anything to worry about, but it can be frustrating to experience it. Avoiding it would be highly advised.

How to Prevent and Treat Ear Infections

Like any viral infection, treatment will usually involve medications. This may include antibiotics or antihistamines depending on whether it’s an inner or outer ear infection. Nasal sprays may also be used to help open up the airways.

The body will naturally heal itself too, not least because the ears are self-cleaning and will push wax and trapped fluid out of the ears over time. Therefore, it’s equally important to avoid common mistakes like trying to dig wax out with earbuds or letting more water or shampoo enter the ears. This will only irritate the ear further, which will prolong the infection and any hearing loss.

Prevention is the best form of protection for your ears against infection as well as potential hearing loss. While it is impossible to remove the threat altogether, the following steps can help:

  • Take care not to get shampoo in your ears when bathing.
  • Always clean your hearing aids before using them.
  • Never share headphones for music or ear defenders.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle to maintain a strong immune system.
  • Avoid habits like smoking that can cause irritation and inflammation in the ear.

Finally, if you have an ear infection, you should avoid hearing tests as your results could be impacted.

To learn more about healthy hearing or to book an appointment with your audiologist today, contact Siouxland Hearing Healthcare, P.L.C. at (712) 266-3662.

Tags: causes of hearing loss, faqs, hearing loss basics