Hearing loss is the partial or total loss of hearing caused by damage to the organs of the ear. It can be temporary or permanent, depending on the degree of damage done to the ear. Hearing loss can occur before birth or be acquired later in life.
Common causes of hearing loss are earwax blockage, noise exposure, eustachian tube dysfunction, ruptured eardrum, abnormal bone formation in the ear, and trauma or head injury.
Other factors that can cause hearing loss are aging, ototoxic medications, and certain diseases like Meniere's disease can also cause hearing loss.
Asides from all the factors mentioned above, an ear infection can also result in hearing loss. The hearing loss caused by an ear infection is a conductive hearing loss because most ear infections occur in the middle and outer ear.
Conductive hearing loss is hearing loss caused by damage to the outer and middle ear. The auditory nerve and the inner ear of a person with conductive hearing loss function properly.
The difficulty with hearing is because the sound from the environment is blocked either in the outer or middle ear and prevented from getting through to the inner ear from where it will be sent to the brain for interpretation.
Symptoms of Ear Infections
The symptoms of ear infections often vary depending on the type of ear infection a person has. Below are common symptoms of ear infections.
1. Mild Deafness
The clarity of speech is often affected. This often manifests as a sensation that the sound or speech being heard is muffled.
2. Discharge from the Ear
Depending on the cause of the ear infection, you may notice a pus-like, fluid-like, watery, or bloody discharge from the ear. In some cases, the discharge may have a foul smell.
3. Itchiness of the Outer Ear
If the infection is on the outer ear, your ears may constantly be itchy. This is one major symptom of hearing loss in children. You may notice that the child is constantly tugging or pulling the ear lobe. This can happen for both outer and middle ear infections.
You may also notice blisters on the outer ear or along with the ear canal asides from the itchiness.
4. Other Symptoms
Depending on the type of ear infection, you may also experience other symptoms like earache, loss of appetite, fever, headache, and vertigo. You may also experience tinnitus or ringing in your ear.
Causes of Ear Infections
Below are some of the causes of ear infections and contributing risk factors.
1. Upper Respiratory Tract Infection
An upper respiratory infection is an infection that occurs when bacteria or virus gets into the body through the nose or mouth. The infection lasts about seven to ten days and can trigger ear infections.
The upper respiratory infection can cause the swelling and inflammation of the eustachian tube, resulting in an ear infection.
The eustachian tube is responsible for draining out fluid from the ear and maintaining a healthy pressure in the ear.
When the tube gets swollen as a result of upper respiratory infection, fluid gets trapped in the ear, behind the eardrum. The trapped fluid creates a conducive environment for bacteria to grow. This results in an ear infection.
2. Sudden Changes in Air Pressure
A sudden change in air pressure can damage the ear and trigger an ear infection. Damage done to the ear as a result of pressure changes is known as barotrauma.
For your ears to function properly, the pressure in the middle ear has to match the air pressure in the environment. If the pressure outside the ear doesn't match with the pressure in the ear, the eustachian tube opens.
The opening of the eustachian tube is meant to create a balance in the pressure. If the eustachian tube malfunctions and does not open when there is a change in pressure, the eardrum can get ruptured.
An eardrum rupture is a hole or a tear in the eardrum. The tear in the eardrum can get infected if bacteria gets to it, and this can cause an ear infection.
3. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
We have already given you a hint on how the eustachian tube in the ears function. The eustachian tube is responsible for draining out fluid from the ear and maintaining a balance of pressure.
Eustachian tube dysfunction can be rectified without any medical intervention. But if it lingers for long, it can cause fluid to accumulate in the middle ear and cause a middle ear infection.
Children are more prone to ear infections than adults, and this is because of their eustachian tubes.
The eustachian tubes in children are narrower and more horizontal than those of adults. This makes it difficult for fluid to drain out from the ear.
Also, because their immune systems are still developing, they are prone to infections that can cause fluid to accumulate in the ear.
4. Water in the Ear
Engaging in activities like swimming and regular bathing can cause or increase the risks of having an ear infection.
When you swim or shower, water gets into the ear. If the water is not properly drained out so that the ear canal is dry, it can create a moist atmosphere for bacteria to grow.
This often results in a type of ear infection known as a swimmer's ear.
5. Ear Injury
Overzealous cleaning or scratching of the ear can bruise or injure the delicate tissues in your ear canal and cause ear infections.
The scratch or injury on these tissues can get infected by bacteria and degenerate into an ear infection.
Types of Ear Infections
There are different types of ear infections that can cause hearing loss. Let's examine some of them.
1. Otitis Externa
Otitis externa is an infection or inflammation of the ear canal between the outer ear and the eardrum. It is also known as swimmer's ear because it is a common ear infection experienced by swimmers due to constant exposure to water which makes the ear vulnerable to the infection.
It is also caused by damage to the tissues of the ear caused by harsh cleaning of the ear. When fungi or bacteria get into the injury on the tissue of the inner ear, it can cause an ear infection.
Otitis externa usually affects only one ear, and it is accompanied by symptoms like ear pain and itchiness in the ear canal. The pain can be quite severe.
Other symptoms like liquid or pus-like discharge from the ear and some degree of hearing loss can also be experienced.
If a bacterial infection causes otitis externa, it can be treated by using ear drops containing antibiotics and steroids. If a fungal infection causes it, ear drops containing antifungal medications and steroids will be used. Often it is necessary for a doctor to clean the ear canal out to remove some of the infection so the ear drops can be effective. Oral antibiotics are usually contraindicated because they can foster other organisms such as yeast or fungi to grow in the ear canal.
2. Infectious Myringitis
This is an inflammation of the eardrum caused by a viral or bacterial infection. This inflammation causes small painful blisters to form on the eardrum.
Infectious myringitis is caused by the same virus and bacteria that cause middle ear infection. It is more common in children than adults.
The major symptom of infectious myringitis is pain that lasts between twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Other symptoms include hearing loss in the affected ear and the draining of fluid from the ear.
It can be treated with antibiotics and pain-relieving medications. But if the pain is severe, your doctor may make small cuts on the blisters so they can drain out.
3. Otitis Media
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that is caused by colds or blocked eustachian tubes. It can be acute or chronic, and children are more prone to it than adults. Otitis media can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria.
Otitis media occurs when the eustachian tube is blocked; this prevents fluid drainage from the middle ear. This fluid accumulates behind the eardrum and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. When bacteria begin to grow in the fluid, it causes pain and infection. Otitis media can also cause hearing loss which is often temporary.
In some cases, if the fluid accumulates for a long while, it can begin to press against the eardrum. This pressure on the eardrum can tear or perforate the eardrum. The tear in the eardrum usually heals naturally.
There are two types of otitis media; acute otitis media and serous otitis media.
Otitis media can be treated with ear drops, pain-relieving medications, and antibiotics. If the tear in the eardrum is taking too long to heal, it can be surgically patched.
4. Acute Mastoiditis
Acute mastoiditis is the infection of the mastoid. The mastoid is the bone that can be felt behind the ear. Previous acute otitis media often trigger acute mastoiditis, and it is considered a serious condition. Fortunately, with the advent of better medical treatment for otitis media, true mastoiditis is often rare.
If left untreated, acute mastoiditis can cause paralysis of the face, deafness, blood poisoning, and meningitis.
Symptoms of acute mastoiditis include fever, excruciating pain, discharge from the affected ear, and redness and swelling of the skin over the mastoid.
Acute mastoiditis can be treated by surgically draining the infected bone or intravenous antibiotics.
5. Vestibular Neuronitis
Vestibular neuronitis is the inflammation of the vestibular nerve, which is caused by a viral infection. The vestibular nerve collects signals about gravity and the back and forth movement of the head from the utricle and saccule. These signals are sent through the vestibular nerve to the brain where it is processed.
The inflammation of this nerve causes sudden or dramatic vertigo, which is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Vestibular neuronitis can be treated with anti-nausea medications, antihistamines, and vestibular physiotherapy.
Hearing Loss After An Ear Infection
Hearing loss caused by an ear infection is often temporary. It is rare for hearing loss to persist when the ear infection has been treated in most cases.
Most damages caused by the ear infection, including the rupture of the eardrum, often heal naturally. Only in rare cases will the medical intervention be needed to hasten the healing process. Even with some eardrums that are damaged, the hearing loss can be mild or non-existent.
There is usually no need to treat hearing loss after the ear infection has been treated. The treatment for the ear infection is the only treatment needed for hearing to return to normal. This is because if the root cause of the hearing loss is handled, the hearing loss will automatically return to normal.
Ear infections are treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications. These medications can be oral ingested or intravenously administered. The medicines can also be in the form of ear drops.
If you have recurring cases of ear infections, medications may not be enough.
Your doctor may have to insert a tube into your eardrum to facilitate easy drainage of fluid from the middle ear and allow for pressure equalization to prevent the fluid from returning.
Eliminating the buildup of fluid relieves the pain and pressure that accompanies hearing loss and reduces the likelihood of future ear infections.
People who have recurrent ear infections can have hearing loss even after the ear infection has been treated. Tympanosclerosis cause this hearing loss.
Tympanosclerosis is the scarring or thickening of the eardrum caused by recurrent ear infections. It affects the mobility of the eardrum and prevents them from vibrating and when the sound gets to them. This causes hearing loss.
Tympanosclerosis can be treated with surgery. But if the hearing does not return to normal after the surgery, hearing aids may be recommended.
Even though most ear infections appear mild, leaving them untreated can cause permanent damage to your ears. If you suspect you have an ear infection, don't take any medications without your doctor's prescription. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics are not always needed. Above all, make sure you have your health care provider evaluate you and your ears. Your ears and hearing are important.
The doctor will have to examine your ears to determine the type of infection and what treatment is suitable for it.
Have you had an ear infection? What caused it, and how did it affect your hearing?