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Ear infections and hearing loss

Earache, muffled hearing, a feeling of fullness in your ear— sound familiar? You may have an ear infection. While they often clear up on their own, chronic or lasting ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss. But knowledge is power and understanding the signs can help you manage, relieve, and even take steps to prevent these irritating infections from returning.
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Understanding ear infections

Causes of ear infections

The bones and spaces making up your ear may be little, but they do big work. And when bacterium, fungi or viruses make themselves at home there, they quickly outstay their welcome. Often resulting from other illnesses that cause swelling and congestion, such as cold and flu, respiratory infections or even allergies, infections can occur in all parts of the ear: the middle, outer or inner.

Middle ear infections

Outer ear infections

Inner ear infections

Symptoms of ear infections

What to look out for

Symptoms of an ear infection can present themselves in a range of ways. Keep an eye out for the following:
  • An earache, which could be dull or sharp pain
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Irritation in or around the ear
  • Muffled or difficulty hearing
  • Discharge or drainage from the ear
Other conditions & risk factors

What other issues can occur?

Look no further than the middle ear to be the culprit of most ear infections and related issues. In some cases, the fluid that builds up behind the eardrum lingers. This fluid can be responsible for several issues related to ear infections.

Otitis media with effusion

Chronic otitis media with effusion

Chronic suppurative otitis media

Can ear infections spread?

What increases risk of infection?

Ear infections & hearing health

Do ear infections cause hearing loss?

We know how scary it can be dealing with ear infections or seeing your little ones having them, but the good news is: most infections don't cause long-term damage to your hearing. While fluid buildup can cause a feeling of fullness in the ear and lead to muffled or mild hearing loss temporarily, once the inflammation clears and the fluid drains, hearing will generally be restored.

When will hearing return?

Can hearing loss be permanent?

Getting help

When should I call the doctor?

Ear infections often take care of themselves after a few days. However, if you find them sticking around for more than 3 days, it's time to call the doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you have:
  • Extreme pain or repeat ear infections
  • A high fever (over 100.4 degrees)
  • Reduced muscle movement or drooping in the face
  • Swelling around the ear

How can I treat an ear infection?

Can ear infections be prevented?

Ear infections & hearing loss: FAQ

Do ear infections cause permanent hearing loss?

How long does hearing loss from an infection last?

Do inner ear infections affect hearing?

Do middle ear infections affect hearing?

Do outer ear infections affect hearing?

Can hearing loss from an infection be reversed?

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Hearing Loss Causes and Risk Factors

Some hearing loss can be prevented. This guide to the causes and risk factors of hearing loss will help you learn to identify potential issues so you can better protect your hearing.
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