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Can Chronic Ear Infections Cause Long-Term Hearing Loss?

My daughter has had one ear infection after another. When she gets an infection, she seems to have trouble hearing, but with medicine it always gets better. Still, I'm worried that these infections could lead to permanent hearing loss somewhere down the line. Could this happen?
- Yasmine

Ear infections are common in childhood. As with your daughter, some kids do have temporary hearing loss due to the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear, but it usually goes away with treatment.

It's very rare, however, for kids to develop permanent hearing loss, even when they've had several ear infections. A child with frequent or chronic ear infections is at risk for permanent hearing loss only when damage has been done to the eardrum, the bones of the ear, or the hearing nerve.

Since your daughter's hearing appears to return to normal after treatment for an ear infection, she's probably not at risk for permanent hearing loss. But if you're concerned, talk to your doctor about scheduling a hearing exam.

If your daughter's ear infections continue to be a problem, the doctor might refer her to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), who may suggest ear tube placement to help reduce the incidence of ear infections and limit the potential problems they can cause to her hearing.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013