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If you have frequent ear infections, or your child does, you may be concerned that it could contribute to hearing loss. Ear infections are especially common in childhood, and there’s a chance that if you get one, you will probably continue to have them later on down the road.

Some people may experience hearing loss in the thick of their ear infection; there can be immense pressure, pain, and buildup of fluid in the middle ear. That can make hearing difficult, as sound is blocked from passing through the ear canal, to the middle ear, to the inner ear. Sounds may be muffled or blocked entirely. This is referred to as conductive hearing loss. The hearing loss is temporary, and will typically dissipate once the ear infection is treated. Ear infections can go away on their own, but they sometimes require antibiotics.

It is rare to develop permanent hearing loss from a standard ear infection, but it is possible. Individuals with chronic ear infections are at risk for permanent hearing loss if damage occurs to the eardrum, the bones of the ear, or the hearing nerve. If ear infections are left untreated, then parts of the middle ear can become damaged. If this happens, there can be permanent hearing loss, but this isn’t common. On the other hand, if there is a viral infection of the cochlea, which is the primary hearing sensory organ, you may experience sudden hearing loss. Your hearing may come back, but it may not; it may also only partially come back.

If you are worried about chronic ear infections, especially in your children, you should schedule an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and then refer to your hearing specialist for a baseline hearing test.