Cold and flu season is approaching
As the Winter months approach, seasonal illnesses approach with them. With how well-connected the various sensory systems are in our bodies, it’s no surprise that we often experience symptoms of infections in several ways. For example, we may experience a stuffy nose that causes a temporary loss of taste and smell, or, perhaps more seriously, causes hearing loss or ringing in the ears.
More severe cases of seasonal infections can sometimes cause an ear infection, as well, which is what can lead to temporary or even longer-term hearing loss.
What causes an ear infection?
Ear infections are much more common in children than adults, but they can happen to anyone. Like most other bodily infections, an ear infection can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, and some ear infections can also involve fluid buildup, leading to a more intense form of infection.
Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae are the two most common bacteria that cause ear infections, but viruses, such as the common cold, can also cause an infection of the middle ear.
The most common symptoms of an ear infection in adults include:
- Ear pain
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Trouble hearing
Infections and ear anatomy
It’s no coincidence that loss of hearing is a symptom of an ear infection because ear infections mainly impact your middle ear, which is the epicenter of our hearing systems.
Your middle ear is the pocket of air behind your eardrum, and it holds three important bones that are crucial in our ability to hear and process sound – the malleus, incus, and stapes. These three bones respond to sounds that pass through the eardrum in the form of vibration and help that vibration travel to the inner ear where the sound is processed for the brain.
When your middle ear becomes infected, it causes the malleius, incus, and stapes bones to work less effectively at passing vibrations from the outer ear through to the inner ear, which is what causes hearing loss.
What to do if an ear infection is causing hearing loss
If you suspect you may have an ear infection, it’s important to remember that ear infections will often clear on their own as your body fights off the bacteria or virus causing the infection, but, in some cases, antibiotics or other medication are necessary to treat the infection and bring your ear back to normal.
Frequent ear infections or ear infections causing hearing loss that persists after the infection is cleared are certainly concerning, and in either of these situations, it’s important to see a specialist that can test your hearing, perform an exam, and treat the ongoing hearing loss.
How is hearing loss from an ear infection diagnosed?
The first step in identifying whether or not the cause of your hearing loss is from an ear infection is a hearing test and thorough ear exam. A test will help your hearing care provider identify the level of hearing loss present, and an exam will help determine if the cause of your hearing loss is physical damage or something deeper.
Once they’ve examined the test results and your ears, your provider can more effectively diagnose both the ear infection and the hearing loss. If the hearing loss is connected to the ear infection, treating the infection is likely priority number one, but a hearing test and exam can also identify underlying issues with your hearing that may be made worse with an ear infection.
Hearing loss can develop gradually, and many folks don’t even realize they have hearing loss until they are diagnosed with it by a doctor, so a hearing exam is even more crucial with ear infections in the off chance that the hearing loss is a separate issue.
While a single, mild ear infection probably won’t cause long-term hearing loss, more severe infections can cause permanent damage to your middle ear and make hearing loss more intense or likely to develop over time.
If an ear infection is causing hearing loss, contact your local Beltone Tristate practice to schedule a free hearing test and exam, and we can help you get on the path to feeling better and hearing better!