Ear Infections & Hearing Loss

Ear Infections & Hearing Loss

In hearing health by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S. has been a licensed audiologist for over 30 years. After working for many years for non-profit rehabilitation agencies and other audiology practices, she established her own practice in 1999.
Laurie Duffy, M.S.

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What is an ear infection? By definition, an ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the ear. There are two types of ear infections. The most commonly known ear infection is of the outer ear. Better known as swimmer’s ear, this infection occurs when water or blockage sits too long on the ear drum causing bacteria to build up in the ear canal. Here we take a look at ear infections and their correlation with hearing loss.

Understanding Ear Infections

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching inside the ear canal, slight redness inside the ear, or clear and odorless fluid drainage. When an outer ear infection is more severe, the pain may radiate to the face, neck, or side of the head. There could also be swelling around the outer part of the ear or lymph nodes in the neck. Another symptom of a more severe infection could be total blockage in the ear canal or a fever. With an outer ear infection, a doctor should be contacted even with wild symptoms.

Preventive measures can be taken to avoid outer ear infections. Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming and bathing. Watch for signs alerting swimmers of high bacteria and choose not to swim that day. Learn proper cleaning techniques when taking care of your ears and avoid putting foreign objects inside your ears.

The second kind of ear infections is called middle ear infection, or acute otitis media. This infection affects in the middle of the ear and the air space between the eardrum and bones. This is most commonly found in children as their immune system is not yet developed enough to easily fight off infections. Middle ear infection is most commonly caused by having a cold, flu, or allergies causing congestion of the throat and nasal passages. A chronic infection could even cause hearing loss though in most cases this is only temporary and caused by inflammation and fluid buildup in the ear.

Diagnosing and Treating Ear Infections and Hearing Loss

Symptoms found in most children include ear aches, ear pulling or tugging, fussiness, loss of balance, clear liquid draining from the ear, high fever, and headache. In adults, more common symptoms are ear pain, fluid drainage, and trouble hearing or hearing loss. It is important to seek medical help as an ear infection could mean many other underlying conditions that need to be accurately diagnosed.

When treated promptly, an ear infection can resolve in a few days to about two weeks’ time. Though a home remedy cannot treat or heal an ear infection, there are ways to help relieve pain. Using a warm compress on the infected ear can relieve some discomfort. A salt water gargle can help clear the Eustachian tubes and soothe a sore throat. A chronic ear infection can last six weeks or more and cause permanent damage to a person’s hearing. Someone having continued issues with hearing should seek medical help and treatment. 

Understanding Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss affects millions of people each year in both children and adults. As adults get older, they accept that hearing loss is a part of the aging process and they don’t seek treatment. Untreated hearing loss affects more than just your ears. Studies have shown that losing even partial ability to hear can be linked to depression and anxiety in both children and adults. In children, speech development is impacted when having an issue with hearing.

Early diagnosis can prevent permanent and total loss of hearing. Treatment may start with a simple hearing test. A general hearing test can be performed by our team at HearCare Rhode Island. We will ask you patient cover one ear and then whisper or speak at different volumes to see how well the patient can hear and respond to sound. We also perform a physical exam by checking for earwax buildup and blockage or other structural damage.

After an initial exam, an audiometer test could be performed. We ask you to wear headphones, and testing one ear at a time, we play different sounds and tones. The different tones are played and repeated at faint levels to determine the lowest level of hearing.

There are treatment options available should the patient have a hearing problem. Earwax buildup can be removed by suction or a small tool. Some hearing issues can be treated with surgery and more severe internal ear issues can be helped with hearing aids or a cochlear implant.

HearCare Rhode Island

If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing due to ear infection and are struggling with communication, contact us today. We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we’re here to help!