Can Colds and Allergies Cause Hearing Loss
You’re sneezing and coughing, you have a stuffy nose and watery eyes, and you are most definitely feeling miserable. Depending on where you live, allergy season can occur during the spring, summer, and autumn months, and colds have a way of popping up year-round as well.
Colds and allergies cause inflammation of the nasal membranes and an increase in mucus production.
Whichever is the cause, a lot of people experience this kind of uncomfortable congestion. The average adult gets as many as four colds a year, according to a study by The American Lung Association, and one in three Americans suffers from allergies each year. Both of these conditions can cause problems with your ears, specifically a reduced sense of hearing. Let’s learn more about this concerning situation.
How can colds and allergies cause hearing issues?
HearingTracker spoke to Mariana Mejia Turnbull, MSc. Audiology, to find out more about how colds and allergies can cause hearing issues.
“The connection between colds, allergies and hearing loss is mostly due to the mechanisms regarding the Eustachian tube,” said Turnbull. The Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run between your middle ears to the back of the nose and throat. They are responsible for equalizing air pressure in the ears and draining fluid from the middle ear.
Diagram of the outer, middle, and inner ear, with eustachian tube highlighted.
Colds and allergies cause inflammation of the nasal membranes and an increase in mucus production—that annoying runny nose we all know only too well. This mucus can “travel up to the middle ear and start an inflammatory process,” Turnbull explained. “The Eustachian tubes open and close regularly in healthy individuals, but inflammation can mean they don’t properly drain secretions from the middle ear,” explained Turnbull.
The build-up of fluid in the middle ear interferes with the transmission of sound during its journey through the hearing pathway to the inner ear. As a result, “the person experiences a decrease in hearing as well as feelings of aural fullness [the clogged-ears sensation],” said Turnbull. This type of hearing loss is known as conductive hearing loss, which does not typically cause complete deafness, but a reduction in the loudness of sounds, often making them seem muffled.
Furthermore, this fluid build-up may also trigger tinnitus (ringing or other sounds in the ears) or balance problems and vertigo, making you feel dizzy and lightheaded. Similarly, people with inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s disease may notice a flare-up in symptoms when allergies or a cold occurs.
Is hearing loss that’s due to a cold or allergies permanent? How is it treated?
The good news is that this kind of hearing loss is usually a temporary condition, and most people make a full recovery. To treat a cold, follow the usual advice of resting, drinking lots of fluids, and, if you like, taking antihistamines and decongestants to reduce ear pressure and the feeling of fullness.
Turnbull said, “If the hearing loss is related to allergies cold, then it should resolve or at least start to get better when that issue goes away.”
As a general rule of thumb, allergy symptoms usually last as long as you're exposed to the allergen, which may be about six weeks during pollen seasons in the spring, summer, or fall. Colds, on the other hand, rarely last beyond two weeks.
When should I seek medical attention for hearing loss due to a cold or allergies?
Since fluid build-up can provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, it can lead to ear infections and further damage your hearing, so it’s important to stay vigilant.
“If a person is experiencing pain, dizziness, drainage from the ears or extreme discomfort, they should not hesitate to seek medical attention. I cannot stress enough that if a person suddenly loses their hearing, they should seek medical attention within the first 48 hours,” said Turnbull, who also cautions against trying to clean the ears by inserting anything – even a Q-tip – into the ears. “Also, unless a doctor prescribed drops, you should not be putting any type of liquid in your ears. If your ears hurt, itch, or have fluid coming out of them, you should be seen by a doctor,”
Fortunately, these scenarios are rare. For most people, hearing issues due to colds and allergies are usually temporary and normally vanish along with the congestion.