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Can An Ear Infection Cause Hearing Loss?

By Raina Cordell, RN
Medically Reviewed by Lilach Saperstein, AuD on January 13, 2021
Ear infections can cause hearing loss. Find out if it’s treatable and how to prevent long-term hearing loss.

If you notice sounds seem muffled or distorted, you may be searching for a reason as to why. According to UnityPoint Health, ear infections account for more than 30 million trips to the doctor every year in the United States. Ear infections can cause hearing loss—but in most cases, it’s temporary. Let’s explore this more. 

Ear Infection and Hearing Loss: Everything You Need to Know

Ear infections, or otitis media, are the most common causes of earaches. People of all ages can develop ear infections, although they are more common in babies and young children—often accompanying a cold, flu, or respiratory infection. 

The Eustachian tube is a tiny channel that connects the middle ear to the upper respiratory tract. It is the place where the ear, nose and throat connect. This connection means that germs from the nose or sinus cavities can climb up the Eustachian tube to the middle ear and start growing. In children, the Eustachian tube is shorter and narrower, making it easier to become blocked by secretions. 

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is another example of an ear infection that can cause hearing loss. This is an infection in the outer ear canal and usually happens when water remains in the ear after swimming.

“Ear infections may sometimes cause a temporary hearing loss due to congestion and/or fluid,” Chrisanda Sanchez, AuD, FAAA, assistant professor of audiology at the University of Miami tells Web MD Connect to Care. When this happens, it can feel like you’re listening through fluid or hearing underwater. Usually, this type of hearing loss is temporary and goes away as soon as the infection is treated. 

“If ear infections are left untreated, however, this can result in speech and language delays and in rare cases, more permanent or long-lasting hearing loss. If you suspect your child may have a hearing loss or a change in hearing secondary to an ear infection, it is best advised to seek medical attention as soon as possible,” Sanchez says. 

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed

In many cases, hearing can be treated. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.