Ear Infections & Hearing Loss

Ear Infections & Hearing Loss

Anyone suffering from stuffiness and mucus can develop an ear infection. All it takes is a common cold to produce enough mucus to irritate the middle ear. The middle ear is the air-filled central cavity of the ear, behind the eardrum. Infections in this area can happen easily during or after upper respiratory infections that cause swelling in the back of the throat. This causes the tube that connects from a narrow passage leading from the pharynx to the cavity of the middle ear called the Eustachian tube to become lodged with mucus and phlegm, preventing proper drainage and creating an infection. Side effects of ear infections include loss of balance, pain, pressure and even temporary hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss

An ear infection is classified as what is known as conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is caused anytime there is a problem passing sound waves anywhere along the pathway through the outer ear, eardrum, or middle ear. This is different than sensorineural hearing loss which is much more common and is related to irreparable damage to the nerves and tiny hair follicles of the inner ear responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain. Some common causes of conductive hearing loss, besides ear infection include:

  • A fluid buildup in the middle ear due to allergies.
  • A problem with the drainage of the Eustachian tube
  • An injury to an eardrum
  • Tumors or growths blocking the ear canal
  • An impaction of earwax in your ear canal
  • A foreign object lodged in your ear.

Signs of a middle ear infection

Often the first sign that suggest you have a middle ear infection is pain in the ear along with excessive pressure from swelling. This is likely accompanied by a headache and discharge coming from your ear canal. Often it is changes in your hearing that are the earliest warning. Sounds may start to feel muffled and unclear like you are underwater. Because the middle ear is connected to your balance it may be a challenge to stand upright and you will most likely feel nauseous. Children under five years are more susceptible to ear infections than adults because the Eustachian tube in children is still developing so it is smaller and more horizontal than a mature Eustachian tube. This makes it more of a challenge for fluid to drain out of the ears of small children.

Treating middle ear infections

Often a doctor will recommend waiting for an ear infection to clear up on its own for 48 hours. Often with plenty of rest and consumption of hydrating fluids this is the case. In the meantime, doctors recommend to treat the pain with an anti-inflammatory drug to ease the buildup of pressure. Sometimes anesthetic drops are used to relieve pain if the eardrum is not torn or damaged.

Antibiotics: If your ear infection still persists after 48 hours physicians will recommend the use of antibiotics to clear up your ear infection. Antibiotics will often clear up the pain and symptoms of a middle ear infection in just a day or two. Even if symptoms have subsided, it is important to make sure to take the entire prescription of antibiotics to ensure that the infection goes away for good.

Ear Tubes: If you are finding that you are suffering from reoccurring middle ear infections there may be a problem with your Eustachian tube. Sometimes you will find that continuous fluid will buildup in the ear even after an infection has cleared up your doctor may suggest inserting a tube in the middle ear to help drain excessive fluid. This is an outpatient surgery called a myringotomy. A surgeon will make a tiny incision in the eardrum in which to suction out excessive fluid. A microscopic tube called a tympanostomy tube is inserted to aid in ventilate the middle ear to help ease reoccurring middle ear infections.

Treating Hearing Loss

Usually as your ear infection subsides you will find that your hearing will return to normal. If your hearing is still bothering you even after and ear infection has cleared up it is important that you make an appointment with an audiologist to explore the extent of your hearing issue. If a hearing loss cannot be resolved, hearing aids can help you compensate for the gaps in your hearing so you can communicate your clearest with the world around you.

Can Hearing Loss Be Cured?

Can Hearing Loss Be Cured?

If you have recently been diagnosed with hearing loss, you are not alone. Nearly 48 million people in the U.S. suffer from debilitating hearing loss. You may be wondering if there is a cure for your hearing loss. The answer depends on the results of your hearing test, which will tell your audiologist what type of hearing loss you have, and its severity.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

If your hearing loss is age-related or caused by exposure to excess noise, this falls under the type of hearing loss known as sensorineural hearing loss. This is the most common type of hearing loss and is caused either by the destruction of tiny hair cells in your inner ear that pick up the vibration of sound or the decay of the nerves that transmit sound from your inner ear to your brain. While there is no cure currently for this type of hearing loss to regenerate the damaged parts of the inner ear your hearing loss can be treated rather effectively with hearing aids. While hearing aids will never be exactly the same as your original hearing, they can help your brain hear the sounds it may have lost due to inner ear damage.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by a blockage or injury to the outer or middle ear. This includes blockages due to tumors, impaction of excess earwax, a build up of fluid due to allergies or infection or a tear to the eardrum. The good new about being diagnosed with conductive hearing loss is that most cases are temporary and are cured by means of treatment from a medical professional. Some of these treatments include antibiotics for ear infections, flushing of the ear canal for earwax compaction and surgery to correct inner ear injury and tumors. Because the parts of the outer and middle ear are very small and fragile you should never attempt to cure a blockage on your own as you could cause a more severe problem than before. In cases where conductive hearing loss can not be cure or instances where the patient suffers from a mixed hearing loss of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, hearing aids or cochlear implants are used to supplement for hearing loss.

Research into Cures for Sensorineural Hearing Loss
While there is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, that has not stopped many scientists for searching for a cure. With the knowledge that some animals including baby chicken, mice and zebra fish can re-grow if damaged. With this in mind researchers have sought to replicate this behavior for humans creating a long sought-after cure for sensorineural hearing loss. One of the most promising steps in this research is utilizing our knowledge of stem cells. Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the repair response of injured tissue using stem cells. Stem cells are cells with the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. It is hoped that using stem cells scientists will be able to regenerate the tiny hair cells that help us hear in the inner ear.
Dr. Stefan Heller, professor of otolaryngology at Stanford University School of Medicine has been researching using stem cells to cure hearing but they are still in the experimentation phase. The cells of the inner ear are difficult to work with and far less than those found in the eyes. However, with the exploration of re-growth of hair cells in the ears of mice and some birds Dr. Heller hopes to find a cure that will make curing sensorineural hearing loss a common place treatment.

How Hearing Aids Help You Hear

In the mean time hearing aids have been proven over and over again to help patients suffering from hearing loss to be able to participate in conversation, and hear the world around them. Hearing aids work with your existing hearing to amplify the sounds your ear picks up and supplements sounds you would otherwise miss. If your hearing loss is severe then cochlear implants can be used to make sure you can pick up the most auditory information possible to be able to navigate the world. Hearing is a very important sense that keeps us connected to our loved ones, our bodies and our lives. Don’t let your hearing loss go untreated and live a life full of healthy sounds.

Conductive Hearing Loss: Signs, Causes, and Treatments

Conductive Hearing Loss_ Signs, Causes, and Treatments

It’s a common misconception that only seniors have hearing loss. Age related hearing loss is just one kind of sensorineural hearing loss, or hearing loss due to damage to cells in the inner ear. Noise induced hearing loss is another form of sensorineural hearing loss, which affects people of all ages. However, there’s another kind of hearing loss that affects people of all ages: conductive hearing loss. This hearing loss affects the outer and middle ear and sounds never make it to the inner ear at all.

What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

This hearing loss is common among children and teens, and adults and seniors can also experience conductive hearing loss. This hearing loss is caused by a blockage in the outer or middle ear, so that sounds from the environment aren’t conducted to the inner ear. When there is any blockage in the ear, a fluid buildup, or some structural damage to the ear canal or the middle ear, the result will be conductive hearing loss.

Watch for the Signs of Conductive Hearing Loss

There are a few telltale signs that differentiate conductive hearing loss from sensorineural hearing loss.

  • Sudden onset: Conductive hearing loss is often characterized by a very sudden onset, or rapid decline in hearing abilities, whereas sensorineural hearing loss is often a slow and gradual hearing loss that you may not even notice in the first few months.
  • Muffled sounds: Conductive hearing loss can be identified by a feeling that all the sounds around you are very muffled. With sensorineural hearing loss you may struggle to hear high pitched sounds, but hear well in other registers. With conductive hearing loss, both high- and low-pitched sounds will seem muffled or faint, as if they’re coming from very far away.
  • Hearing loss in one ear: Conductive hearing loss can affect one or both ears, while sensorineural hearing loss is often present in both ears.

Other signs of conductive hearing loss include struggling to follow conversations, turning up the volume on the TV, or sleeping through the alarm clock. You may experience pain in the ear, have a discharge in the ear, or even feel dizzy.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Causes of conductive hearing loss vary widely, and anything that can block the ear canal or damage the middle ear will cause hearing loss.

  • Impacted earwax – one common cause of conductive hearing loss is a buildup of earwax in the ear canal. Using Q-tips can push old, dirt- and dust-filled earwax back against the eardrum, and lead to a blocked ear canal.
  • Ear infection – another cause of conductive hearing loss is an ear infection in either the ear canal or the middle ear. An ear infection causes inflammation and swelling, and can lead to a buildup of fluid either in the ear canal or the middle ear. Ear infections are very painful, and will often cause hearing loss.
  • Ruptured eardrum – an injury can cause hearing loss, and a head trauma can rupture the middle ear or eardrum, interfering with the eardrum function, and causing conductive hearing loss.
  • Otosclerosis – Otosclerosis attacks the bones of the middle ear, known as the ossicles, and creates an abnormal growth on the bones. This stops the ossicles from moving against the eardrum and sounds won’t reach the inner ear, leading to hearing loss.

Treating Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss can sometimes be treated very easily, and this hearing loss won’t be permanent. For example, removing a buildup of ear wax can open the ear canal, and make it easy for sounds to reach the inner ear. Medical treatments are best used when the conductive hearing loss is due to an infection, and antibiotics can fight the infection, speed the draining of the ear, and have you hearing normally in just a few days.

Other causes of conductive hearing loss will need more advanced treatment, and you may opt for a surgical implant, or invest in hearing devices. Hearing aids will help you hear the sounds around you and get back to participating in conversations with friends and loved ones. A hearing test will determine the severity of your hearing loss, show what sounds you’re missing, and help you pick the perfect device that will let you hear clearly.