Can Ear Infections Lead to Hearing Loss?
Do you or your child suffer from recurrent ear infections? Are you concerned about the effects on your or their hearing? Unfortunately, it’s pretty standard for ear infections to happen again and again, particularly in babies and young children with smaller Eustachian tubes.
The buildup of fluid in the middle ear can lead to temporary hearing loss. However, permanent damage may occur if ear infections are left untreated, making it vital to be aware of the risks and symptoms – and know when to see your GP!
Common Complications of Ear Infections
Most ear infections are harmless and will subside after a few days without causing long-term complications such as permanent hearing impairments. But:
|If ear infections are left untreated, you may risk a range of complications and health threats, including conductive hearing loss, the spread of bacterial infections and the tearing of the eardrum under increased pressure.|
- Conductive Hearing Loss
It is usual for sounds and speech to sound muffled when you have an ear infection. It’s pretty similar to wearing earplugs and usually improves once the infection clears up.
But, if you do not seek medical assistance, you may well risk permanently damaging your eardrum and adjacent middle ear structures. The type of hearing loss caused by ear infections is referred to as conductive hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is commonly caused by middle ear obstructions, including a buildup of wax, fluid in the middle ear, or a hole in the eardrum. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, which affects the auditory nerve, conductive hearing loss affects the outer or middle ear.
Since your middle ear sends sounds to your auditory nerve, obstructions along the way can cause hearing loss. In most cases, said hearing loss is curable with the appropriate medical treatment. However, in rare cases, hearing aids or hearing implants may be necessary to restore your hearing.
Spread of Bacterial Infections
Like any bacterial infection, ear infections can spread to nearby tissues. In addition, in rare cases, untreated ear infections may cause mastoiditis, an infection of the mastoid, the bony protrusion behind your ear. The mastoid is connected to the eustachian tube, which runs from your middle ear to the back of your throat.
Mastoiditis can result in the formation of painful, pus-filled cysts and is a potentially life-threatening condition. Severe infections can spread to the skull and from there to the membranes surrounding your brain and your brain itself.
Tearing of the Eardrum
Your eardrum is a thin tissue separating your ear canal from your middle ear. If you have a middle ear infection, fluids will accumulate in your middle ear, causing an increase in pressure on the membrane. If the fluid isn’t drained, your eardrum will eventually rupture.
The good news is that most eardrum tears heal within a few days. However, in rare cases, surgical repair is required.
A history of recurrent ear infections may also cause tympanosclerosis, the thickening and scarring of the eardrum (tympanic membrane). A thickened eardrum will significantly affect your ability to hear.
The treatment for tympanosclerosis involves the surgical removal of sclerotic areas. In some cases, the reconstruction and repair of the eardrum and middle ear structures may be necessary.
If your hearing doesn’t improve after surgery, your GP and audiologist may recommend hearing aids to treat the unresolved hearing loss.
Speech Delays in Young Children
Untreated hearing loss in infants and children, whether temporary or permanent, can negatively impact the child’s speech development and social skills.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure their hearing loss doesn’t negatively impact your child. If you suspect that your child may have a hearing impairment, don’t hesitate to schedule a hearing test for children at your nearest Attune Hearing Clinic.
Ear Infection Hearing Loss Often Temporary
|Given the proper medical attention, most hearing loss caused by an ear infection will subside with the infection itself.|
Your GP may choose to treat your ear infection with antibiotics, and in most cases, your hearing should return to normal within a week.
But, if you or your child suffer from recurrent ear infections, your GP may choose to drain fluid and pus from the ear by inserting a small tube. This will relieve the build-up pressure and prevent the bursting of the eardrum.
Ear Infection Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of ear infections usually show quickly.
Who is at Risk?
Common risk factors that may increase the chances of having an ear infection include:
Between the ages of six months to two years, children are the most susceptible to ear infections because of the size and shape of their ear anatomy. When an infant or child has a cold, bacterial infections and germs can easily travel from their throat to the middle ear.
Sinus infections and frequent colds can increase your chances of getting an ear infection. So will chronic respiratory diseases such as Asthma.
Ear infections are most common during the pollen season. Seasonal allergies can increase your risk of ear infections. Allergies may cause swelling of the nasal passages leading to a fluid buildup in the middle ear, which can cause infections.
Poor air quality
Smoking and high levels of air pollution can increase your risk of ear infections.
Unusual bone structures can make it more difficult for the eustachian tubes to drain correctly. Infants and Children with untreated cleft palates may therefore suffer from ear infections more often than others.
When it’s Time to See Your GP
Ear infections often pass quickly and within a few days. Still, it is vital to watch the symptoms and seek medical attention if:
- Symptoms last for more than a day
- Pain and fever are getting worse
- Fluid is draining from the ear
- You have trouble hearing
If you suspect that you or your child may have hearing loss due to recurring ear infections, have your or their hearing checked out by a qualified audiologist.
Don’t hesitate, call your nearest Attune Hearing clinic and book a free 15-minute hearing test today!