A middle ear infection — also known as otitis media — happens when your middle ear becomes infected and fills up with fluid. This makes your ear hurt (a lot!) and also makes it difficult to hear properly. But why are middle ear infections more common in winter than summer? And how can a temporary ear infection cause permanent hearing loss? Read on to find out.
1. Middle ear infections aren’t contagious.
But the viruses and bacteria that cause them are! Many middle ear infections are caused by the common cold or flu. Your ears are connected to your throat via the Eustachian tubes, which makes it easy for infections in your throat or chest to spread to your ears. Once there, your middle ear starts to fill with fluid, putting pressure on your eardrum and making your ear hurt.
2. Middle ear infections are more common in winter than in summer.
If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Middle ear infections are often caused by colds and flu, and there are more cold and flu viruses flying around in winter than in summer. Therefore, you are much more likely to get a middle ear infection in January than you are in July.
3. And they’re also more common in children.
This one’s less obvious. Children are more likely to develop middle ear infections because of the shape of their ears. In adults, the Eustachian tube (see point 1 above) slopes down away from their ear, making it easier for fluid in their middle ear to drain away. But in children, the Eustachian tube is more level, so the fluid doesn’t drain away as easily. This nice, warm fluid is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, so children are much more likely to suffer from ear infections than adults.
4. Most ear infections go away on their own.
Just like the colds and flu that often cause them, most ear infections will go away by themselves. In fact, many doctors won’t prescribe antibiotics until you’ve had symptoms for at least three days.
5. But middle ear infections can cause permanent hearing loss.
Most ear infections cause some kind of temporary hearing loss. The fluid in your middle ear stops sound waves from reaching your cochlea, making it harder to hear. This usually disappears once the infection is over and the fluid drains away from your middle ear.
However, if you get lots of ear infections (known as chronic otitis media), or one particularly severe ear infection, this could cause permanent damage to your ear. Bacteria need food in order to survive and multiply, so they start to eat away at your eardrum and the three little bones, or ossicles, in your middle ear. These damaged bones and eardrum then can’t transfer sound waves properly, causing you permanent conductive hearing loss.
6. Chronic ear infections affect children’s speech development.
The peak age range for getting ear infections is between 6 and 18 months. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most critical periods for language development. If a child can’t hear properly during this time, they may have problems learning to listen, talk, and even read. Therefore it’s important that children who regularly get middle ear infections receive the right hearing device early on so that their language development is not affected.
7. It’s possible to hear with an ear infection.
And the good news is that there are hearing devices out there that can help you to hear, even with the most serious ear infection. Bone conductions systems like ADHEAR are completely removable. This means they can be worn during the ear infection to let you hear and then taken off once the infection has gone away. For a young child with chronic ear infections, ADHEAR allows them to hear the world around them so that they can learn to speak just like any other child.
Want to learn more about ADHEAR? 12-year-old William tells us how this bone conduction device changed his life.
Think your child’s ear infections might be causing hearing loss? Check these signs of hearing loss in children.
Want to find out more about bone conduction hearing solutions? Read all about ADHEAR.
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