Can Ear Infections Lead to Permanent Hearing Loss?

Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are a common condition that occurs when the middle ear becomes infected and inflamed. Bacteria or viruses get trapped and grow into an infection. It’s difficult to determine whether the ear infection occurred due to bacteria or a virus, but one major distinction is that those caused by bacteria tend to have a higher fever. In addition, virally caused ear infections tend to go away on their own within a week or so. 

Ear infections are most common in children. According to HealthPartners, here is a list of risk factors for children:

  • Being exposed to cigarette smoke
  • Lying flat while bottle feeding
  • Pacifier use
  • Being in a large childcare center


Ear infections also affect adults, especially if they have a weakened immune system or medical condition. Though ear infections are often associated with symptoms like ear pain and discomfort, they can also cause hearing loss.

The connection between ear infections and hearing loss is due to the way ear infections can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for converting sound waves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound. When the hair cells are damaged, they may be unable to function properly, leading to hearing loss.

In addition, ear infections can cause fluid to build up in the middle ear, which can also lead to hearing loss. This is because the fluid can press against the eardrum and prevent sound from being transmitted to the inner ear. When this happens, sounds may be muffled or distorted, and hearing may be impaired.

It’s important to see a doctor if you think you may have an ear infection, as prompt treatment can help prevent complications. Possible complications include:


  • Hearing Loss – may occur frequently or never fully heal
  • Ruptured Eardrum – burst of fluid due to buildup in the middle ear, making a small hole
  • Mastoiditis – behind the ear bone infection resulting in redness, swelling, and headaches
  • Meningitis – infection of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord resulting in flu-like symptoms
  • Facial Paralysis – one side of the face is paralyzed due to infection
  • Brain Abscess – infection in the brain resulting in a gathering of pus
  • Repeat in Ear Infections


You can find more details about the above-mentioned complications at Everyday Health, though your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend the appropriate treatment. Treatment may include antibiotics, pain relievers, or other medications. In some cases, a small tube may be inserted into the ear to drain the fluid and relieve pressure on the eardrum.

Ear infections, regardless of being bacterial or viral, can cause hearing loss by damaging the hair cells in the inner ear and causing fluid to build up in the middle ear. While ear infections are not contagious, the germs that created the infection can spread. If you think you may have an ear infection, it’s important to see a doctor for proper treatment. With prompt treatment, you can help prevent complications like hearing loss and improve your overall health.