Can ear infections cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of different factors including aging, injury, noise exposure, even heredity. Those factors affect the auditory nerve, causing a sensorineural hearing loss, which is the most common type of hearing loss.

But there is a second, less common type of hearing loss, known as conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss affects the outer or middle ear rather than the auditory nerve, the way sensorineural hearing loss does. Conductive hearing loss is commonly caused by an obstruction in the middle ear.

Ear infection hearing loss is a type of conductive hearing loss

The middle ear moves to send sounds to your auditory nerve. Any obstruction can prevent sounds from passing through the middle ear and can cause hearing loss. Infection in the middle ear can cause fluid to build up, obstructing the movement of the eardrum and the tiny bones attached to it.

Wax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, or a hole in the ear drum are other causes of conductive hearing loss.

“Otitis media” is the medical term for an ear infection affecting the middle ear. The infection can cause a buildup of fluid, making it difficult for the eardrum and the ossicular chain to work together to move sounds to the auditory nerve. The ossicular chain in the middle ear is made up of the three smallest bones in your body. Called the malleus, incus and stapes, each one is as small as a single grain of rice.

Can you go deaf from an ear infection?

The term “ear infection” is generally used when referring to a middle ear infection or acute otitis media. This is an infection of the space behind the eardrum where the three hearing bones (ossicles) reside. Medical treatment is commonly required for this type of infection, though in many cases, middle ear infections clear up on their own.

Mild, conductive hearing loss may come and go while the infection is active, but permanent hearing loss is not typically a concern. In cases of multiple and long-term infections, however, permanent damage to the eardrum or other middle-ear structures can result in permanent hearing loss. If there is concern of infection, consult a primary care or ENT physician for proper treatment.

Ear infection hearing loss is often temporary

Hearing loss caused by an ear infection is usually temporary and subsides after treatment. Your physician may choose to treat your ear infection with antibiotics. If the antibiotics successfully treat the infection, your hearing should return to normal. If you have a history of recurrent ear infections, your physician may insert a tube in your ear drum to help the fluid drain.

Eliminating the buildup of fluid relieves the pain and pressure that often accompanies an ear infection and can prevent the eardrum from rupturing. If fluid builds up without resolution, the pressure can cause your eardrum to rupture.

A history of recurrent ear infections can also lead to tympanosclerosis, which is the thickening or scarring of the tympanic membrane. A perforated eardrum and tympanosclerosis adversely affect the mobility of the eardrum and reduce hearing acuity. If your hearing does not return to normal following treatment, your physician and hearing professional may recommend hearing aids to treat the unresolved hearing loss.

Seek treatment for hearing impairment

If you have trouble hearing, it is important to have your hearing tested by a hearing professional, so the degree and type of hearing loss can be identified. Your hearing professional will identify the type of hearing loss you have and discuss the best treatment option with you following your hearing evaluation.

To find a hearing professional near you, just click here and type in your zip code. You’ll see a list of local providers you can call.


Join our community of Starkey Blog subscribers

Want a week's worth of Starkey blogs delivered to your inbox? Sign up here.


By Starkey Hearing