Can an Ear Infection in Adults Cause Hearing Loss?
Experiencing one or many ear infections as a baby or young toddler is a normal part of growing up, it seems. Babies’ eustachian tubes are so much smaller than an adult’s, so it becomes more difficult for fluid to drain from them, resulting in painful ear infections.
Ear infections as an adult are much less common but can still happen occasionally. Could these ear infections that occur in the adult years still result in hearing loss? Should adults be checked for ear infections more often than they are to prevent hearing loss? Here’s what you need to know when it comes to ear infections and how to protect your hearing.
What Causes Ear Infections?
Bacteria or a virus can sometimes cause swelling and fluid to accumulate back behind the eardrum. Because of the swelling and inflammation, vibrations in the ear cannot happen, leading to some temporary hearing loss. Usually, this hearing loss is more of a nuisance and doesn’t last for more than a couple of days.
Some of the more common types of ear infections are:
- Otitis media with effusion – Fluid can accumulate in the eustachian tube (the tube that goes from the very back of your throat to your middle ear) and cause hearing loss. This fluid can stick around for several weeks after the infection clears up too.
- Acute otitis media – When the eustachian tube swells so much that the fluid in the tube cannot move anywhere. This fluid can get infected and can really hurt! This also can cause some hearing loss temporarily.
There are other types of ear infections that are less common but are a result of ongoing infections and complications from the conditions mentioned above. The eardrum can be perforated or collapse, causing even more issues, treatments, and time for healing.
How Do I Know If I Have an Ear Infection?
As adults, ear infections are often overlooked. So how do you know if you have an ear infection? The most common symptom is feeling pain and pressure in your ear as if you can’t “pop” your ears like you need to.
Other symptoms that children usually experience with ear infections can also pertain to youth and adults. These symptoms may include:
- Ear drainage (alerting you to a ruptured eardrum)
- Hearing loss
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Increased pain when lying down
Is My Hearing Loss Temporary or Permanent?
The good news is the hearing loss that you experience during a simple ear infection is usually only temporary and will be restored as the inflammation and swelling go away. This will allow fluid to drain more easily.
Fluid can stick around for a bit, even for a few months resulting in continued hearing loss. Typically ear infections will resolve in two to three days. However, if you continue to experience hearing loss after a few days, talk to your doctor to make sure what’s going on. Being proactive about your health concerns can really pay off in the end!
How Are Ear Infections Treated?
There are some things you can do at home to help ease the pain from an ear infection. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen, applying a warm compress, or propping yourself up with extra pillows to sit up more when sleeping can all help you get through an ear infection with as much comfort as possible.
As a kid or maybe even with your own children, you may have remembered always receiving antibiotics for your ear infections. But with recent research, we now know that about 80% of ear infections clear up on their own without any antibiotics at all.
Some ear infections, especially those caused by a virus, are being treated improperly with antibiotics, causing antibiotic resistance in our children and ourselves. Unfortunately, this puts us at risk of not being able to treat bacterial infections in the future.
Sometimes though, antibiotics are the best treatment option, especially for young babies and toddlers that are in quite a bit of pain and experiencing fevers. There is undoubtedly a time and place for antibiotic treatment.
Is My Hearing Loss Temporary or Permanent?
The good news is the hearing loss that you experience during a simple ear infection is usually only temporary and will be restored as the inflammation and swelling go away. This is because you allow time for the fluid to drain more easily.
Fluid can stick around for a bit, even for a few months resulting in continued hearing loss. Typically, most ear infections will resolve in two to three days. However, if your hearing does not improve once your ear infection clears up, your hearing loss could be due to other health conditions. Contact your doctor to get checked out as soon as you can.
If you find that you are experiencing ear infections frequently, this can cause continued damage to the eardrum, and your hearing loss can be permanent. Talk to your doctor and a specialist who deals with hearing about options that can help protect your ears and hearing now and in the future.
Is It Time to Call a Hearing Specialist?
You might think that waiting it out is the best thing to do with your ear infection or even hearing loss, but it may not be. If your ear pain and other symptoms persist for more than three days, especially if they seem to worsen, it’s time to visit your doctor and possibly a hearing specialist.
Contact your doctor immediately if your hearing loss occurs suddenly and for no apparent reason. Delaying care and waiting to see if it gets better can reduce the treatments available to you as well as how well they will work.
Hearing the world around you adds much enjoyment to life. But don’t risk your ability to hear when you don’t need to. Become an advocate for your own health and if something concerns you, contact our experienced team at Fairfax Hearing Center to schedule an appointment and hearing test today.