Hearing loss can be a confusing and isolating experience. Did you know that certain hearing loss can be caused by an ear infection? An infection can prevent sound from reaching the inner ear. For sufferers, sounds might be completely cut off or come through muffled and hard to understand.
While many infections can improve on their own with time, others require antibiotics or other treatment. For pain, applying a warm compress to the side of the ear or taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen might give some temporary relief. It is best to consult with an audiologist if you are experiencing hearing loss, pain, inflammation, or excessive fluid build-up in your ears.
In many cases, the hearing loss experienced as a result of an infection can be temporary and reversible. Knowing the signs of a hearing infection can help us better understand what is happening and how to go about seeking treatment.
1. Pain or earache
Pain in the body is one of the signs of a hearing infection. Earaches can be caused by any number of factors including obstructions inside the ear, but the most common cause of ear pain is infection. The ear is a complex organ and inflection can strike several different parts of the ear.
Most ear infections are typically accompanied by other symptoms including sinus congestion or a sore throat. All of which are likely to improve with time or treatment.
2. Inflammation of the ear canal
The ear canal can swell or become inflamed due to infection, causing redness and pain. Known as otitis externa, people also call this condition “swimmer’s ear.” In addition to inflammation and swelling, sufferers might experience a buildup of fluid inside the ear canal. The obstruction or inflammation can prevent sounds from moving through the canal to the middle ear. Hearing will return once treated and the infection subsides.
3. Fluid behind the eardrum.
The eardrum is a thin cone-shaped membrane located at the end of the ear canal as it enters the middle ear. The eardrum functions like a speaker cone, converting and amplifying vibrations in the air into vibrations in fluid inside the ear.
If fluid builds up behind the eardrum, the fluid causes sounds to become distorted, and it can completely block hearing. Damage to the eardrum can cause irreparable hearing loss. This condition can occur with or without an infection. A fluid occlusion will typically clear on its own, but if the middle ear becomes infected, it can risk bursting the eardrum.
4. Middle ear infection
The middle ear refers to the part of the ear in between the eardrum and the inner ear. The middle ear serves an important function transferring sound inside the ear. It transforms vibrations from the eardrum into sound waves that run in to the fluid-membrane waves of the inner ear. Infection in the middle ear is known as otitis media. Infection is rare in the middle ear, but when inflammation causes swelling and pus to affect the middle ear, sound waves cannot pass through it.
As is often the case, most hearing loss will return once the infection clears. If these signs of a hearing infection are untreated, a serious infection in the middle ear can permanently damage its critical role in our ability to hear, threatening to cause irreversible hearing loss.
5. Vertigo, dizziness or balance problems
Dizziness, vertigo, problems with balance or walking can all be related to an infection in the inner ear. The inner ear is made up of two features: the cochlea, used in hearing, and the vestibular system, which works with our visual system to help maintain balance.
Inflammation, occlusions or infection in this part of the ear can interfere with these systems and create the sensation that the room is spinning. This condition is typically temporary, and should subside as the infection clears.
6. Viral cochlea infection
Located in the inner ear and spiral-shaped like a snail’s shell, the cochlea is the main sensory organ involved in hearing. Viruses that cause upper respiratory infections like the common cold or influenza can also affect the cochlea.
When viruses attack the cochlea, it can cause sudden hearing loss, which may not return, only partially return, or completely return after the infection subsides.
7. Nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting can be symptomatic of many types of infection, but for the ear, infection in the inner ear is the type of ear infection most responsible for feelings of nausea or vomiting. These signs of a hearing infection should be taken seriously, since they might be indicative of other health issues as well.
The perception of a ringing in the ears is known as tinnitus. Some patients experience tinnitus as a buzz, roar, click, pop, hiss or hum instead of phantom ringing sound. Tinnitus is a relatively common problem, affecting as much as 1 in 5 people.
Like pain, tinnitus is a symptom of another problem. It can be related to hearing loss, injury or a problem with circulation inside the ear. It can get worse with age. An annoying and distracting problem, tinnitus can respond to treatment or become less noticeable.
Infection is a complex phenomenon and some hearing loss can results from any of these conditions. Very common in children, ear infections can affect people or any age. Some ear infections are communicable while others are not transmissible. Many types of infection can cause temporary or reversible hearing loss.