Can Ear Infections Lead to Hearing Loss in Teens?

Although ear infections aren’t as common in children after age 10, they can occur in teens and adults, points out the Children’s Physician Network 1. Permanent hearing loss is rare, but the risk increases with the number of chronic ear infections 1. The Department of Otolaryngology at the University of California, Irvine notes that, in some cases, chronic ear infections can lead to permanent damage to the ear causing partial or complete deafness 1.

Damage to the Ear

KidsHealth notes that permanent hearing loss is infrequent unless chronic ear infections damage the eardrum, bones of the ear or auditory nerve 13. Recurrent ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss that makes it harder to hear sounds 1. When fluid builds up behind the eardrum, it blocks the conduction of sound vibrations passing through the ear. Medications can often correct this type of hearing problem. In some cases, though, surgery is required.

Temporary Hearing Loss

Generally, doctors treat the symptoms of an ear infection. For instance, temporary hearing loss sometimes occurs when fluid accumulates in the middle ear. If a viral infection causes congestion, your teen's doctor may recommend a decongestant or antihistamines to dry up the congestion. Doctors usually only prescribe antibiotics for treating bacterial ear infections 1. Bacteria inside the middle ear cause inflammation and congestion and, if left untreated, will multiply and can cause complications that lead to hearing loss, cautions WebMD.

Fluid Buildup

Otitis media is the most common cause of conductive hearing loss in teens, reports TeensHealth. The infection occurs in the middle ear -- the small space behind the eardrum 4. Even after an ear infection goes away, fluid sometimes remains in the middle ear for weeks or months afterward 4. Allergies, the flu, colds and viral infections of the upper respiratory tract can cause fluids to accumulate in the middle ear, which leads to difficulty hearing 1. Once the fluid clears up, a teen should be able to hear normally again as long as there has been no damage to structures within the ear.

Serious Hearing Loss notes that while mild hearing loss can accompany an ear infection, middle-ear infections generally do not cause permanent hearing loss 14. Although theses types of infections can be painful, most clear up without medical treatment. If your teen suffers from frequent ear infections, she should see her doctor after 2 to 3 weeks to make sure the infection is gone 1. Infections that recur often or fluid that remains in the ear increase the risk for more serious hearing loss 1. Bacterial ear infections that go untreated can damage ear bones or spread to the surrounding tissues 1.