Ear infections can be incredibly unpleasant. Those who suffer from the condition often report sharp pain, dizziness, nausea and other terrible symptoms. While ear infections are common in children, many adults develop them every year. Unfortunately, hearing loss is often a consequence of surviving an ear infection. You don’t have to live a life of muffled sounds, though. In this article, we discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment methods for ear infections and how to improve hearing. We also discuss some strategies for boosting hearing after the infection is gone.
With the significant amount of medical literature about ear infections, we know it can seem daunting to get honest, reliable information. If you are wondering how to improve hearing after your ear infection, you have come to the right place. In preparing this piece, we looked through dozens of medical articles. In addition to finding recommendations from healthcare professionals, we considered the experiences of patients. Now we present answers to some common questions about hearing loss and ear infections.
What Is an Ear Infection?
The technical term for an ear infection is otitis. The condition is the result of an infection and inflammation in the outer, inner or middle ear. While ear infections are usually more frequent in young patients, adults also suffer from them.
What Causes Ear Infections?
The cause of an ear infection often depends on where the infection is inside your ear. For those in the outer ear, water is often the culprit. In fact, outer ear infections are often called swimmer’s ear. When water accumulates inside the outer ear, it provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Irritation or scratches in your ear canal allow the infection to move inward.
Inner ear infections often start with colds. Bacterial or viral infections that are more serious, such as meningitis, may also be present inside the inner ear. With this type of infection, you may feel confused, dizzy or imbalanced.
Middle ear infections often begin as colds, the flu or a respiratory infection. These infections then spread to the eustachian tubes inside the ears. This process is the reason ear infections are more common in children than adults. Since children have small eustachian tubes, swelling from infection has an easier time interfering with them. Eustachian tubes in children are also oriented horizontally, making draining more difficult. While adults usually have better-developed eustachian tubes, they are not invincible. As such, adults can develop middle ear infections from plugged or swollen eustachian tubes following a cold or other illness.
What Are Some Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
Ear infection symptoms depend on the location of the infection. An outer ear infection targets the area between your eardrum and the outside of your head. If this portion of your ear becomes infected, you may notice redness or a rash. You may also feel pain or see discharge. While possible, outer ear infections usually don’t result in hearing loss.
Inner ear infections are not very common. In fact, most inner ear conditions involve swelling of nerves. This may be due to a condition called vestibular neuronitis. In more serious cases, meningitis or another bacteria or virus may be to blame. Hearing loss is common in inner ear infections. Likewise, you may have pain, vertigo, dizziness, nausea or a feeling of imbalance.
The most common type of ear infection involves the middle ear. This is the area between your eardrum and inner ear. Those who suffer from a middle ear infection often feel intense pain. Some also develop a fever. Hearing loss often accompanies a middle ear infection as well.
What Are Some Risk Factors for Developing an Ear Infection?
If you want to avoid the nasty symptoms of an ear infection, you should know about some risk factors for the condition. While all types of ear infections have different causes, some factors may increase your odds of developing an ear infection.
To function correctly, your ears need a steady supply of oxygenated blood. As you probably know, smoking interferes with circulation. Therefore, avoiding smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke is a good way to reduce your chances of acquiring an ear infection. Moreover, seasonal allergies can increase your chances of having ear problems. Therefore, adequately controlling these through antihistamines and other therapies may keep you free from ear infections.
When Should You See a Doctor for an Ear Infection?
Knowing whether to seek medical care for an ear infection can be tough. Generally, these infections resolve themselves over time. As such, drinking fluids and getting rest is often the best way to treat them. If an ear infection persists, though, visiting your doctor is a good idea.
You shouldn’t treat all ear infection symptoms the same. If you have a fever, you should not wait to see your doctor. This is specifically important if your fever is high. Moreover, if you are experiencing symptoms of an inner ear infection, waiting to seek medical attention could be a dangerous mistake. Therefore, if you feel dizzy or nauseated, you should see emergency care. Further, you should see your doctor as soon as possible for ear infections that cause hearing loss, blindness or a sense of vertigo.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Ear Infections?
If you notice the symptoms of an outer, inner or middle ear infection, you may want to schedule an appointment with your family doctor. All physicians should have enough expertise and equipment to diagnose an ear infection. To do so, your health care provider likely must perform a physical examination using an otoscope and other tools. These exams are usually painless.
For serious ear infections and other conditions, you may need to see an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat, specialist. These professionals often have advanced tools and diagnostic procedures to help them identify and treat ear conditions.
How Do Doctors Treat Ear Infections?
Since many ear infections are caused by a bacterial infection, doctors often prescribe antibiotics. This may be taken orally or applied through ear drops. For viral infections, the condition often must subside on its own. Therefore, doctors usually recommend staying hydrated and getting rest. In more serious cases, doctors may refer you to a specialist or surgeon.
How to Improve Hearing Loss After an Ear Infection?
One of the primary side effects of an ear infection is hearing loss. Because hearing effectively is essential for a variety of reasons, you may be looking for ways to improve hearing loss after an ear infection.
The best way to improve hearing following an ear infection is to seek medical treatment for the infection. In most cases, hearing loss is due to the infection itself. When the infection subsides, normal hearing returns over time. If you don’t seek medical care, you may further damage your ears. You also may encourage your ear infection to last longer than it should. As such, if you want to know how to improve hearing loss, properly treating your ear infection by working with a qualified medical professional is a good idea.
Unfortunately, hearing loss does not always return when an ear infection goes away. Some individuals continue to experience lasting hearing loss. For these, scheduling an appointment with an audiologist or ear, nose and throat doctor is key. After the specialist rules out physiological sources on how to improve hearing loss, he or she can recommend audiological augmentation devices that may boost your ability to hear. Specifically, your doctor may fit you for a hearing aid. Often, an amplifying sound is the best way on how to improve hearing or restore hearing following an ear infection.
Is a Hearing Test Necessary After an Ear Infection?
While hearing loss is a common symptom of ear infections, ear infections are not the only cause of hearing loss. If you are having difficulty hearing, the following may be to blame:
- Earwax buildup
Remember, just because your hearing loss happened around the same time as your ear infection does not mean the ear infection caused the hearing loss. A physical examination can likely determine whether your hearing condition is because of an infection or due to another source.
Before you can strategize on how to improve hearing, you must gauge your ability to hear. For most individuals, the best way to determine hearing ability is by submitting for a hearing test. Your general practitioner can likely perform this test. Alternatively, you can ask for a referral to a specialist who can test your hearing abilities.
Final Thoughts on Ear Infections and How to Improve Hearing
Your ears are important. As such, you expect them to be pain-free. You also depend on your ear to hear clearly. Unfortunately, an ear infection can reduce your ability to hear certain sounds. By understanding the symptoms and causes of ear infections, and how to improve hearing, you know when to seek medical attention.
If you have sustained hearing loss following an ear infection, you have options. While treating the underlying cause should be your first priority, you may also elect to wear a hearing aid. To be sure you are on the right track, you must have effective medical care. Rather than leaving the condition of your ears to chance, work with a knowledgeable doctor to be sure your hearing is as good as it should be.
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