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When thinking about factors that cause loss of hearing, we often think of the obvious reasons, exposure to loud noises, congenital birth defects, and old age. A less common cause of hearing loss is an ear infection.
However, if ear infections get very serious, individuals both young and old are at risk for developing hearing loss. In this article, we will discuss common symptoms and causes of an ear infection, correlations that exist between loss of hearing and infections, and when untreated hearing loss should be treated.
Understanding Ear Infections
Due to the difference of symptoms that may occur in adults versus children, it is important to understand how infections may present in each population. Symptoms present differently based upon age of the individual, as an example, adults are able to freely communicate their symptoms, while a baby or a younger child may not be able to do so explicitly. With this being said, symptoms that present in adults and children are similar, however, they present differently.
First, symptom presentation in adults may occur with one or more of the following symptoms. Pain may present in the outer, middle, or inner ear as a sudden sharp pain or as a dull constant pain. Some may feel a fullness in the ear causing dizziness or muffled hearing. A feeling of sharp pain paired with warm drainage of fluid flowing from the ear canal may occur. In some cases, nausea and fever may be present. While these issues are just some examples of what patients may experience with infected ears, other symptoms may occur.
In children, it may be more difficult to pinpoint what is causing illness or discomfort. Fever and nausea may present in a child with an earache, however, a telltale sign of an infection is tugging or scratching at the infected ear(s). Other symptoms to be aware of in children include, poor sleep, increased irritability or crying, and a decrease in appetite. When a child does not respond or react to your voice this could mean they are experiencing a loss of hearing due to the infection. At this point, it is extremely important to see a doctor when experiencing these symptoms to ensure untreated hearing loss does not continue.
Correlation between Hearing Loss & Ear Infections
While symptoms of ear infections may vary across populations, causes remain consistent. Two causes for chronic infections resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss are swimmers ear, also known as Otitis Externa and second, your run of the mill middle ear infection caused by the common cold, known as Acute Otitis Media. Causes and treatment for these common infections are provided below.
A common cause of infections is swimmers ear. Swimmers ear begins in the outer ear canal and can affect any area of the ear to the outside of the head. Water from swimming or bathing builds up in the ear. When water does not drain, bacteria and fungus will breed causing an infection. Swimmers ear must be treated with a visit to the ear doctor and a prescription for ear drops, otherwise, left untreated, pain and loss of hearing could result.
Acute Otitis Media, an infection of the middle ear, is often caused by an upper respiratory infection that settles in the middle ear. When the middle ear swells, the Eustachian tube is unable to drain the fluid from the middle ear causing an inability to equalize pressure. In turn, fluid builds up in the middle ear, bacteria thrives, and infection sets in. As a result, a doctor should be seen immediately, if left untreated, loss of hearing may occur.
The correlation between ear infections and untreated hearing loss occur when fluid builds up, bacteria grows in the fluid, and infection sets in. Once infection effects the middle and inner ear, they are unable to properly function, resulting in temporary or permanent loss of hearing.
While loss of hearing may be temporary in most cases, if left untreated, loss could remain permanent or irreversible. If infections are reoccurring a doctor should be seen as soon as possible to eliminate further damage or scarring to the tissue of the eardrum. Anytime hearing loss is ongoing or suspected, hearing should be checked by a hearing health professional.
Desert Valley Audiology
If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing and are struggling with communication, contact us today. We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we’re here to help!