Topic Overview

An ear infection may sometimes cause a temporary or
hearing loss. This generally occurs because the
infection blocks sound from passing through the ear canal or middle ear to the
inner ear. When sound is blocked like this, it is known as conductive hearing
loss. You may hear sounds as muffled or indistinct.

See a picture
of the ear.

Types of infection that may cause
temporary or reversible hearing loss include:

  • Inflammation or infection of the ear
    canal (otitis externa). This condition is often referred to
    as “swimmer’s ear,” though too much water in the ear is not the only cause.
    Inflammation, swelling, or buildup (exudate) in the ear canal may block sound
    from moving to the middle ear. Hearing usually returns on its own after the
    infection goes away.
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media).
    Swelling and pus may block sound from moving to the inner ear. Hearing usually
    returns on its own after the infection goes away. Untreated middle ear
    infections may cause permanent damage to the structures of the middle ear that
    results in permanent hearing loss. But this is rare. Most ear infections get
    better on their own, but sometimes antibiotics may be needed. And few ear infections cause permanent
  • Fluid in the space behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion). This may occur with or
    without infection. Fluid buildup may distort sound or block its passage to the
    inner ear. Fluid behind the eardrum usually clears on its own, although the
    eardrum may burst if the fluid in the middle ear becomes
  • Viral infection of the cochlea (the main sensory organ of
    hearing). This causes sudden hearing loss. The viruses that cause this type of
    hearing loss are thought to be the same ones that cause
    upper respiratory infections such as
    influenza or a cold. Hearing may not return, may
    partially return, or may completely return.

Ear infections are most common in children, but they can occur at any
age. This cause of hearing loss can almost always be found during a normal
visit to your doctor.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017