Many adults wonder whether hearing infections they had when they were children are the cause of their hearing loss today. The simple answer is this: a single ear infection is unlikely to lead to permanent hearing loss. However, repeated infections may worsen a person’s hearing over time.

Ear Infections and Hearing Loss

Both adults and children can develop ear infections. However, infection is more likely among children.

Ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. Children with a single infection early in life are unlikely to experience hearing loss later on as a direct consequence. However, children and adults with frequent hearing infections are more likely to develop the condition.

The impact on hearing depends on where the infection occurs. Hearing loss usually results from the presence of germs in the middle ear, often because of another infection, such as the cold or flu.

In some cases, ear infections are a consequence of swollen eustachian canals – tiny tubes that regulate pressure in the middle ear. When a person has an infection, these can become blocked, leading to a buildup of fluids in the ear, causing hearing dullness and the other symptoms of ear infection. Children are particularly susceptible to blockages since their eustachian canals are narrower than adults.

Adenoid infections can also lead to blockages of the eustachian tubes. When these glands become infected, they swell, putting pressure on the eustachian canals and causing blockages. Again, this can lead to irritation and infection of the middle ear. During infection, patients can experience impaired hearing loss, usually mild. As the infection progresses, the hearing loss becomes worse before getting better as the immune system clears it up.

However, researchers believe that recurrent ear infections may lead to more significant, long-term hearing loss. That’s because fluid buildup in the middle ear can cause permanent damage to the eardrum and other structures in the ear.

The effect of the damage can vary over time. In some children, evidence of mild hearing loss becomes apparent immediately. In others, damage may only affect them later in life. Ear infections in adults are unlikely to cause damage to the structures that form the middle ear. Therefore, adult infections are less likely to cause hearing loss.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Ear Infections?

Washing your hands regularly throughout the day is a powerful way to prevent the spread of ear infections because it kills cold and flu viruses. You can also sneeze into your elbow to avoid spreading germs.

Keeping your home smoke-free may also help. Smoke may make ear infections more likely.

How Long Does Hearing Loss from an Ear Infection Last?

While long-term hearing loss from ear infections is the result of damage to the structures of the middle ear, short-term hearing loss comes from a buildup of excessive fluid. Fluid interrupts the transmission of sound waves as they travel through the ear, making sounds duller and quieter than normal.

Hearing loss from ear infections is usually short-term. Once excess fluid drains from the middle ear, hearing returns to normal. Excess fluid can no longer impede sound transmission.

Unfortunately, in some cases, fluid cannot drain from the eustachian canals and can remain stuck in the ear, causing infection-related hearing loss to persist. While most ear infections drain within two to three days, some people can experience buildup that lasts for up to three months. If you have ongoing dullness after an infection, visit your audiologist.

Are Ear Infections a Major Cause of Long-Term Hearing Loss?

Ear infections are not a leading cause of hearing loss. Most people lose their hearing because of factors to do with aging, genetics and history of loud noise exposure. A smaller group of people have congenital hearing loss, which means they were born with it.

Other causes of hearing loss can include taking large quantities of aspirin, streptomycin and various chemotherapy agents. Hardening of the bone in the ear or tumors called acoustic neuromas can also lead to hearing loss symptoms.

Discover the Cause of Your Hearing Loss Today

If you have hearing loss in one or both of your ears, contact our team today and find out what’s behind it. It could be the result of repeated ear infections or another cause. Once you have the proper diagnosis, you can get the best treatment services for your condition. Call Desert Hearing Care at (480) 374-1846 to learn more or book an appointment with an audiologist.

Tags: causes of hearing loss, ear infections