December 2, 2021

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Ear Infection and Hearing Loss: What’s the Connection?

According to the United Kingdom’s 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 no matter your age, it’s possible to experience short-term hearing loss when fluid and inflammation develop 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 known as otitis media, a middle ear infection occurs when bacteria or a virus causes inflammation and fluid buildup in the area behind the eardrum. This type of middle ear infection can lead to temporary hearing loss.

The two most common kinds of otitis media include:

  • 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 cause some hearing impairment.
  • Otitis media with effusion. Fluid or mucus may build up inside the eustachian tube, even after the infection clears up. This fluid buildup can also impair your ability to hear well.

Less common kinds of otitis media include:

  • Chronic suppurative otitis media. This type of infection usually occurs as a result of complications of ongoing acute otitis media. It’s characterized by a 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. It usually occurs when the eustachian tube doesn’t work properly for a prolonged period of time.

Ear infections are much more common in babies and young children than in adults, as their eustachian tubes are much smaller and it’s harder for fluid to drain out.

In fact, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders reports that 5 out of 6 children will experience at least one ear infection by the time they turn 3 years old.

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

But the fluid can linger for some time. While the symptoms of a typical case of otitis media will usually begin to resolve within about 48 to 72 hours, the fluid that’s built up in the middle ear may linger for as long as 3 months. You may have trouble hearing clearly while the fluid remains trapped.

Ear infections can be uncomfortable and painful. If you have pain and pressure in your ear, you might suspect that you have one.

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

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

  • Body language. Watch out for your baby or toddler pulling on their ear. This could be an indication of ear pain.
  • Fever. A fever is a sign that the body is trying to fight off an infection.
  • Fussiness or irritability. Is your child cranky and irritable for no other reason? Are they crying more than usual, too?
  • Ear drainage. Pus or fluid draining out the ear is a common sign of an ear infection. The fluid may be yellow or bloody, which signifies a ruptured eardrum.
  • Trouble hearing. When fluid builds up in the middle ear, it can create temporary hearing loss.
  • Unsteadiness. The fluid in the ear can also upset your child’s sense of balance, leading to unsteadiness or even dizziness.
  • Inability to lie down comfortably. Lying down can cause an uncomfortable shift in pressure within the middle ear.
  • Diarrhea. A child with an ear infection may sometimes experience some 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 include:

  • aging
  • exposure to loud noises
  • genetics

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

But there are other, less common, causes of hearing loss. For instance, some medications can cause damage to your hearing or balance. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this can include:

  • large quantities of aspirin
  • loop diuretics
  • some chemotherapy agents
  • some aminoglycoside antibiotics like streptomycin

Hearing loss can also arise from:

It’s possible to suddenly lose your hearing, especially in one ear. For example, loud noises, like explosions, have been known to cause sudden hearing loss.

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

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

  • head injury
  • infection
  • disorders of the inner ear
  • other conditions

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

Symptoms associated with a typical ear infection can ramp up, which means you’ll need to contact a doctor. Seek medical care if you or your child has an ear infection and experience 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 get worse or last longer than 3 days

If your child experiences frequent ear infections, or the infections seem to be affecting their hearing, speech, or language development, talk with their doctor. A hearing impairment from frequent ear infections may impede their speech and language development in the critical early years.

It’s also important to call your doctor right away if you experience sudden, unexplained hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders says you might spontaneously recover your hearing within 1 or 2 weeks, as about half of people with sudden hearing loss do. But delaying your diagnosis may reduce the effectiveness of the treatment you receive.

If you do not have a regular doctor, consider visiting a retail clinic or a walk-in community clinic to be examined.

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 typically clear up in about 3 days without the use of antibiotics.

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

In some cases, though, 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 younger if both ears are involved

Home remedies for an ear infection

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

  • Pain relievers. A dose of over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce the 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 doing so helps you feel better.
  • A change in sleeping position. Try putting extra pillows under your head to help your ear drain when you go to sleep at night.
  • Distraction. If your child is really fussy, try a distraction technique to take their mind off their painful ear. A favorite toy, snack, or game might do the trick.

Ear infections can sometimes cause 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 clear up, you’ll likely find that your hearing will begin to improve.

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

If your hearing doesn’t improve once your ear infection has cleared up, contact your doctor to get your hearing checked out and to make sure your hearing loss isn’t caused by some other condition.

https://www.healthline.com/health/ear-infection-hearing-loss