Ear infection and hearing loss: what’s the connection?


According to UK National health service, hearing loss has multiple possible causes, and an ear infection is just one of them.

Ear infections are more common in children than in adults, but regardless of your age, it is possible to experience short-term hearing loss when fluid and inflammation develops in your middle ear.

This article will take a closer look at hearing loss due to an ear infection as well as other possible causes of hearing loss.

Also called otitis media, a middle ear infection occurs when a bacteria or virus causes inflammation and fluid buildup in the area behind the eardrum. This type of middle ear infection can cause temporary hearing loss.

The two most common types of otitis media are:

  • Acute otitis media. When the eustachian tube, which runs from the back of the throat to the middle of the ear, becomes inflamed, it can trap fluid inside the tube. This fluid can become infected, causing pain and swelling. Sometimes this type of infection can lead to hearing loss.
  • Otitis media with effusion. Fluid or mucus can build up inside the eustachian tube, even after the infection has cleared. This fluid buildup can also affect your ability to hear well.

The less common types of otitis media include:

  • Chronic suppurative otitis media. This type of infection usually occurs as a result of complications from an ongoing acute otitis media. It is characterized by persistent discharge from the middle ear caused by perforation of the eardrum. It often causes hearing loss, especially in children.
  • Adhesive otitis media. This involves the collapse of the eardrum, which then adheres to the structures and wall of the middle ear. This usually happens when the eustachian tube does not function properly for an extended period of time.

Ear infections are much more common in babies and toddlers than in adults because their eustachian tubes are much smaller and it is harder for fluid to drain.

In fact, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that 5 out of 6 children will have at least one ear infection before the age of 3.

Usually, the hearing loss that develops from a middle ear infection is temporary. Once the fluid flows from the middle ear, it no longer inhibits the transmission of sound vibrations.

But the fluid can persist for a while. While the symptoms of a typical case of otitis media usually start to go away within about 48 to 72 hours, the fluid that has built up in the middle ear can persist for up to 3 months. You may have trouble hearing clearly as long as the liquid remains trapped.

Ear infections can be uncomfortable and painful. If you feel pain and pressure in your ear, you might think you have it.

But babies and toddlers usually don’t yet have the words to tell you that their ears hurt. So how do you know if your child has an ear infection?

Common signs that can be an indication of an ear infection in young children include:

  • Body language. Watch out for your baby or toddler pulling on their ear. It could be an indication of ear pain.
  • Fever. A fever is a sign that the body is trying to fight off an infection.
  • Restlessness or irritability. Is your child cranky and irritable for no other reason? Are they also crying more than usual?
  • Ear drainage. Pus or fluid leaking from the ear is a common sign of an ear infection. The fluid may be yellow or bloody, which means a ruptured eardrum.
  • Hearing problem. When fluid builds up in the middle ear, it can create temporary hearing loss.
  • Imbalance. Fluid in the ear can also disrupt your child’s sense of balance, causing instability or even dizziness.
  • Inability to lie down comfortably. Lying down can cause an uncomfortable pressure change in the middle ear.
  • Diarrhea. A child who has an ear infection can sometimes have diarrhea or vomiting.

Many of these symptoms are also signs of an ear infection in older children and adults.

In general, the most common causes of hearing loss understand:

  • aging
  • exposure to loud noises
  • genetic

Some people are also born with hearing loss, known as congenital hearing loss.

But there are other, less common causes of hearing loss. For example, certain medications can damage your hearing or your balance. According to American Speech, Language and Hearing Association, this may include:

  • large amounts of aspirin
  • loop diuretics
  • some chemotherapy drugs
  • certain aminoglycoside antibiotics like streptomycin

Hearing loss can also result from:

It is possible to suddenly lose your hearing, especially in one ear. For example, loud noises, like explosions, are known to cause sudden hearing loss.

But sudden deafness, or sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), can also occur when something is wrong with the sense organs in the middle ear.

According to National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, SSHL can occur as a result of:

  • head injury
  • infection
  • inner ear disorders
  • Other conditions

The above organization says that only about 10 percent of cases of SSHL have an identifiable cause.

Symptoms associated with a typical ear infection may intensify, which means you will need to contact a doctor. See a doctor if you or your child has an ear infection and has any of the following symptoms:

  • fever of 102.2 ° F (39 ° C) or higher
  • pus or fluid coming from the ear
  • hearing loss
  • symptoms that worsen or last for more than 3 days

If your child has frequent ear infections or if the infections seem to affect their hearing, speech or language development, talk to their doctor. Hearing loss due to frequent ear infections can hamper speech and language development during the critical early years.

It is also important to call your doctor immediately if you have sudden and unexplained hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says you could spontaneously recover your hearing in 1 or 2 weeks, as do about half of people with sudden hearing loss. But delaying your diagnosis may reduce the effectiveness of the treatment you are receiving.

If you don’t have a regular doctor, consider going to a retail clinic or community walk-in clinic to get checked out.

In the past, antibiotics were often prescribed for ear infections. But according to a 2010 research review, we now know that 80 percent of ear infections Usually go away in about 3 days without the use of antibiotics.

In fact, the use of antibiotics can make the bacteria responsible for the infection resistant to the antibiotics. Additionally, using antibiotics inappropriately or when you really don’t need them can lead to antibiotic resistance, an ongoing challenge in the medical community.

In some cases, however, antibiotics may be the best course of action. The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends the use of antibiotics for ear infections in children:

  • 6 months and older with moderate to severe ear pain for 48 hours, or a temperature of 102.2 ° F (39 ° C) or higher
  • 24 months or less if both ears are affected

Home remedies for an ear infection

If you or your child has a typical ear infection without serious symptoms, you can try some of these home remedies:

  • Pain relief. A dose of over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce pain and fever.
  • Compresses. Whether you prefer a warm compress or an ice pack, this method is safe for children and adults. You can even alternate them if it helps you feel better.
  • A change in sleeping position. Try putting extra pillows under your head to help your ear flow when you fall asleep at night.
  • Distraction. If your child is really picky, try a distraction technique to get over their aching ear. A favorite toy, snack, or game might do the trick.

Ear infections can sometimes lead to hearing loss. This is due to inflammation and fluid buildup in the area behind the eardrum. Hearing loss from an ear infection is usually temporary. Once the ear infection starts to go away, you will likely find that your hearing will start to improve.

But sometimes the fluid can linger in the middle ear for several weeks or even up to 3 months. You may have trouble hearing properly as long as the fluid remains trapped.

If your hearing does not improve after your ear infection clears, contact your doctor to have your hearing checked and to make sure your hearing loss is not caused by another condition.

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