Ear infections are extremely common, and most people will have one at some point in their lives. Hearing loss is a common symptom of many types of ear infection, although it’s usually temporary and goes away on its own.
However, certain infections, particularly when left untreated, could lead to more long-term hearing loss. That’s why it's so important to have your hearing checked regularly, and visit your doctor if you notice any symptoms.
There are many types of ear infection that can potentially lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss — including inner, middle, and outer ear infections. Often these can have very similar hearing loss symptoms, so your doctor or audiologist will need to take a closer look in order to determine the type of ear infection you might have.
Inner ear infections and hearing loss
Inner ear infections (also called labyrinthitis) affect the innermost parts of the ear (called the labyrinth) responsible for balance and hearing. As the labyrinth becomes irritated or inflamed, it can impact the nerves responsible for hearing, leading to a number of symptoms, including temporary hearing loss. Most cases are caused by viral infection, but they can also be bacterial.
Inner ear infections like labyrinthitis typically go away on their own within 2-4 weeks, however in more serious cases, damage of the inner ear and blood vessels can lead to sensorineural hearing loss, which is a mostly permanent change to your hearing.
Middle ear infections and hearing loss
Otitis media is a bacterial middle ear infection that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) and a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum. This fluid build-up can block the middle ear, causing temporary hearing loss. This usually resolves on its own in less than a week, but more serious cases can lead to permanent hearing loss from damage to the eardrum or surrounding nerves, although this is rare.
Anyone can experience otitis media, but it mostly affects children because their immune systems tend to be weaker and the tubes in their middle ear tend to be smaller, and more prone to infection.1, 2 You can find out more about ear infections in children here.
Outer ear infections and hearing loss
Outer ear infections are typically caused by bacteria or fungus, and are particularly common in people who swim frequently, smoke, have low immunity or even those who wear hearing aids or frequently use headphones.3, 4 One common type of outer ear infection is otitis externa, which impacts the ear canal, causing it to become inflamed and blocked. As a result, many people can experience temporary hearing loss, although this usually clears itself within a few days.
How long does hearing loss last after infection?
Hearing loss caused by an ear infection is usually temporary and goes away on its own after a few days. If symptoms persist for more than a week, then it’s important to see a doctor or audiologist who can provide further treatment. Antibiotics can clear up the infection, or if you have a history of recurrent ear infections, the fluid build-up within the ear can be drained.
If you have noticed a recent change in your hearing, then it’s best to have your symptoms checked. Take our free online hearing test to check how good your hearing is or contact your nearest Specsavers store to speak to an audiologist.
1. Monasta L, Ronfani L, Marchetti F, et al. Burden of disease caused by otitis media: systematic review and global estimates. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e36226. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036226
2. Nielsen MC, Friis M, Martin-Bertelsen T, Winther O, Friis-Hansen L, Cayé-Thomasen P. The middle ear immune defense changes with age. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2016;273(1):81-86. doi:10.1007/s00405-015-3493-0
3. Mazlan R, Saim L, Thomas A, Said R, Liyab B. Ear infection and hearing loss amongst headphone users. Malays J Med Sci. 2002;9(2):17-22.
4. Okuyama Y, Baba A, Ojiri H, Nakajima T. Surfer's ear. Clin Case Rep. 2017;5(6):1028-1029. Published 2017 Apr 4. doi:10.1002/ccr3.929