Otitis Media and Hearing Loss

Otitis Media

Otitis media (middle ear infection) is the most common cause of hearing loss (deafness) among children but seen less frequently in adults, and it occurs typically during winter or spring. Otitis media is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that leads to an accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum. This condition can result from a cold, allergy or respiratory infection. The accumulation of fluid in the middle ear during otitis media causes earache, swelling and redness - which is called acute otitis media and also prevents the eardrum from vibrating properly, which typically results in (temporary) hearing problems.

Otitis media is broadly categorized as:

Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)
Fig 1: Otitis Media (middle ear infection)

Acute Otitis Media (AOM)

Acute Otitis Media (AOM) causes parts of the middle ear swollen and infected, and fluids get trapped behind the eardrum. Person suffering from AOM suffers from earache and may have fever as well.

Otitis Media with Effusion (OME)

After an ear infection has run its course, Otitis Media with Effusion sometimes happens when the fluids stay blocked at the back the eardrums. A person suffering from OME may show no symptoms, but a doctor will be able to detect the fluids trapped at the back of the eardrum with special instruments.

Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion (COME)

Even when there is no infection, fluids stays in the middle year for a long time and persists again and again, leads to chronic otitis media with effusion. Person having COME is more susceptible to new infections, which can also affect their hearing.

The Ear, Hearing and Otitis Media

Sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear are carried by the three tiny bones in the middle ear. When fluid gets trapped behind the eardrum, the vibrations are not transmitted efficiently and sound energy gets lost, therefore speech sounds are sensed muffled or inaudible. The hearing loss due to Otitis Media usually ranges from mild to moderate.

Some degree of hearing loss is found in all the people who are infected in the middle ear or have fluid. The intensity of average hearing loss in ears containing fluid is 24 dB, which is equivalent to wearing ear plugs. (24 dB is about the level of the very softest whispers). Thicker fluid, on the other hand, results in much more hearing loss, nearly around 45 dB (level of conversational speech).

Hearing Loss Prevention

Generally, majority of middle ear infections (otitis media) gets cured up within three days and don't need any specific treatment. This type of hearing loss is classified as conductive and is temporary. However, when Otitis media occurs in repetition, it can damage the eardrum, or the tiny bones of the ear, or even the auditory (hearing) nerve, which can result in a permanent, sensorineural hearing loss.

Person suffering from regular bouts of Otitis media should immediately consult their family doctor and start treatment.

Myrintotomy is an operation where a minor surgical incision may be necessary. During the procedure the surgical incision is made into the eardrum to drain the fluid and relieve pressure due to poor airflow. The middle ear is relieved of congestion which results in improved hearing.