As noted by Healthline, the prognosis for adults is more serious, and adult ear infections — especially recurring ones — frequently signify an underlying health problem.

The consequences of leaving an adult ear infection untreated can also be severe, potentially even leading to permanent hearing damage. 

See, an ear infection can interfere with your hearing in a number of different ways depending on type and severity. And while this hearing impairment often disappears with the infection, this is not always the case. To understand the reasons for this, we must first understand how an adult ear infection can impair your hearing. 

Why Do Adult Ear Infections Cause Hearing Loss?

Patients suffering from one may experience muffled sound or find it difficult to understand speech. They may also suffer from tinnitus. This hearing impairment is often one of the first signals of an impending ear infection, but the reasons vary based on the type and severity of the infection. 

An outer ear infection, or otitis externa, is typically the result of damaged tissue or exposure to foreign agents. Someone suffering from otitis externa will typically have a blockage of some sort in their ear canal. In this case, what's causing the hearing loss is relatively apparent — the infection is blocking sound from entering the ear.

Technically a subcategory of otitis externa, infectious myringitis is an infection of the eardrum itself. Painful blisters form on the surface of the organ. Depending on the severity, these blisters may need to be professionally lanced. 

Meanwhile, a middle ear infection (otitis media) usually impairs hearing through both inflammation and fluid buildup. Because the middle ear is inflamed, there's less space for soundwaves to pass through. Pressure from fluid buildup in the inner ear, meanwhile, interferes with the function of various organs. 

In severe cases, if the fluid becomes infected and the discharge is severe enough, it could even rupture your eardrum. 

An inner ear infection, or otitis interna, is arguably the most severe of its type. Inflammation of the inner ear interferes with both hearing and balance. Typically, this is accompanied by vertigo, hearing problems, balance issues, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. 

One other possible cause of hearing impairment could actually be tied to treatment of an ear infection. Certain medications list ototoxicity as a side effect, meaning there's a chance they may cause partial or complete deafness when you use them. Just like the ear infection itself, this impairment usually isn't permanent. 

How Long Will It Take Hearing to Return After an Ear Infection?

The good news is that the hearing impairment that accompanies an adult ear infection isn't permanent — usually.

Typically, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the infection has been fully treated. For most ear infections, this takes one to two weeks. Severe or chronic cases may take longer, anywhere from two to six weeks. 

There's a catch, as well. 

If you ignore an ear infection or fail to receive treatment for long enough, it can easily progress from temporary hearing impairment to permanent hearing loss. This may be the result of damage to the ossicles, small bones within the ear that play a pivotal role in hearing. It could also be caused by scar tissue formed after a ruptured eardrum heals, or even damage to the stereocilia in the inner ear. 

That's why it's imperative to seek a consultation with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist immediately if you suspect you may be suffering from an ear infection. That goes double if you're experiencing any form of hearing impairment, even mild tinnitus. The faster you receive a diagnosis and treatment, the higher your chance of making a full recovery. 

Medical care has come a long way over the past several decades. Today, we understand more about the human ear than at any other point in history. That does not, however, mean there's a treatment for every ailment. 

Although research is currently ongoing into how we might potentially repair damage to the ear, for the moment, any hearing damage you suffer from an untreated ear infection is very likely permanent. 

So, talk to your doctor. While you're at it, we'd recommend scheduling a hearing test, as well. Where your ears are concerned, you can never be too careful.