Hearing Loss After Ear Infection: Causes and Treatments

Hearing loss is a decreased ability to receive sounds, which can lead to conversational difficulties or a complete inability to understand sounds. Hearing loss can be sudden or gradual, permanent or temporary. It varies from mild, moderate and even to a severe or complete hearing loss. The risk of hearing loss increases with age. But sometimes hearing loss is reported after ear infection. How does this happen?

What Causes Hearing Loss After Ear Infection?

In cases of an ear infection, the inflammation blocks the sound from passing through the ear canal from the middle ear into the inner ear. In this case, this hearing loss is known as a conductive hearing loss. The sounds are often heard as indistinctive and muffed. The probability of an ear infection to cause hearing loss will depend on the severity, frequency, and type of the ear infection.

The ear infection can affect all the three parts of the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.

1. Otitis Externa

Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear canal. In cases when the infection and inflammation of the outer ear occur, the swelling and the buildup of pus will stop the sounds from moving from the outer ear to the middle ear, resulting in hearing problems. Once the infection is treated or once the wax is cleared, the hearing will usually return to normality.

2. Otitis Media

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Once the infection of the middle ear is treated, the hearing will return to normality. However, if the infection is not diagnosed and treated on time, the swelling and the collection of pus can lead to permanent and irreversible damage of the middle ear structures. If the infection of the middle ear persists, antibiotic treatment is necessary.

3. Viral Infection of the Cochlea

An infection of the inner ear is usually a viral infection. The inner ear is made out of the cochlea, the main sensory organ of hearing. This type of infection is treated with steroids, hoping that they will reduce the inflammation and the possibility of hearing loss. If left untreated or even with treatment, this inner ear infection can lead to permanent damage. 

Note: You can never predict a hearing loss after ear infection, so diagnosis and treatment on time are very important.

How to Get Back Your Hearing After?

If you think that your hearing problem is caused by an underlying ear infection, seek medical help. As mentioned, hearing loss after an ear infection is unpredictable. No risks should be taken. The treatment should focus on curing the infection as soon as possible.

1. Otitis Externa

Otitis externa is successfully treated with ear drops. Usually, the symptoms of otitis externa will improve after a couple of days with the treatment. Without treatment, otitis externa will take weeks to resolve. There are four types of ear drops available:

  • Corticosteroid ear drops
  • Antibiotic ear drops
  • Antifungal ear drops
  • Acidic ear drops

Sometimes, a combination of these ear drops can be given. When using ear drops for the treatment of otitis externa, it is very important to use them correctly.

  • First, you will need to gently remove any debris or discharge from the outer ear using a cotton wool.
  • Once the outer ear is cleaned, apply the ear drops on the affected ear.
  • Warm the ear drops before using them by holding them in your hands for a couple of minutes.
  • After applying the ear drops, gently push and pull the affected ear for a couple of seconds so any trapped air gets out.
  • Lie down on one side for about five minutes after applying the ear drops to the affected ear in order for the drops to reach the ear canal and do their work.
  • Make sure to leave the ear canal open so it dries out.

If ear drops do not provide a relief, other treatment options are available. Your healthcare provider may recommend stronger painkillers, antibiotic pills, etc. In cases of a boil, it might be necessary to drain the pus from the ear.

Other specialist treatments available when treating an outer ear infection include:

  • Dry swabbing
  • Syringing or irrigation
  • Microsuction

Sometimes, even an ear wick might be necessary which will help the medication reach the end of the ear canal. Once the infection resolves, you might want to get a checkup and re-evaluate your hearing condition.

2. Otitis Media

To inhibit hearing loss after ear infection, otitis media should be diagnosed and treated on time. Otitis media can be acute or chronic. Acute otitis media starts suddenly but cures quickly. On the other hand, chronic otitis media is characterized by an infection of the inner ear which lasts longer and has a great chance of reoccurring.

Both acute and chronic otitis media are treated with antibiotics. In cases of a chronic infection, a surgical procedure which involves inserting a pressure equalizer tube in the ear is recommended. This tube tends to fall out naturally and the eardrum repairs itself.

Another treatment option in cases of recurrent and chronic otitis media is a surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids as they are one of the common causes of middle ear infections. As these glands are near the eustachian tube, viruses and bacteria from this region often spread to the middle ear, leading to recurrent and chronic infections.

3. Viral Infection of the Cochlea

In the acute phase of the infection, medications against nausea and dizziness are recommended. If nausea is very severe and dehydration develops, intravenous fluids are necessary.

If the symptoms of a viral infection of the cochlea persist and progress to a chronic infection, vestibular rehabilitation exercises might be needed. Most of these vestibular rehabilitation exercises can be performed at home. With vestibular rehabilitation exercises, an immediate relief might occur. However, sometimes a couple of weeks are needed before a relief of the signs and symptoms is noticed.

It is very important to stay active and moving even while experiencing dizziness and imbalance as this will help you recover faster. Sitting or even lying down with the head still will just prolong the adaptation process. Drinking a lot of water is also essential to help with hearing loss after ear infection.

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