Fall allergies are in full swing (hello, ragweed!) and while sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes are at the top of the list of symptoms, it is also the case that allergies can cause hearing loss and other ear-related symptoms. While most effects on the auditory system come and go with the dust and pollen, it is important to talk to your doctor about any lingering symptoms, which could indicate infection or another underlying problem.
How Do Allergies Affect the Ears?
The ear is a complicated mechanism subdivided into sections known as the outer, middle and inner ears. Allergic reactions, most often in the pollen-induced form that we call “hay fever,” can affect any or all of the three sections, but are most likely to occur in the middle ear, where the Eustachian tube is located. Designed to drain mucus and relieve pressure from the ear, the Eustachian tube can become clogged with mucus or blocked by swelling as a result of allergies. The fluid blockage and/or swelling sometimes cause a degree of hearing loss, as well as the sensation that your ears need to be “popped.”
Some people experience itchy swelling in their outer ears as part of an allergic reaction, including to food. Not only can the itching cause physical discomfort, but the swelling can partially obscure the passage to the middle ear, causing sound to be somewhat muffled. While inner-ear allergic reactions are rare, there is some evidence that those coping with Meniere’s Disease, which affects the inner ear and causes intermittent hearing loss, can have an allergic component.
Finally, allergic symptoms in the ears can affect balance and sometimes cause tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Most of these ear-related allergic symptoms are treatable to some degree and worth looking into, especially if you experience them on a recurring basis.
What Can Be Done to Relieve Allergic Symptoms in the Ears?
In many cases, antihistamines and other over-the-counter allergy medications can allay allergy symptoms, including those affecting the ears. For lingering discomfort, ear pain or significant hearing loss, it is important to consult a doctor. An allergy-induced excess of fluid in the inner ear can result in the formation of bacteria that cause ear infections. If you have pain in your ear and suspect you have an infection, your doctor might recommend a course of antibiotics, since untreated ear infections have the potential to be dangerous.
Outer ear itching and swelling can often be cured with drops. For severe symptoms or unavoidable exposure to allergens, regular shots or other interventions might be recommended by your doctor or allergist. If the culprit is a food allergy, you should monitor symptoms for increasing, potentially dangerous, severity.
There is no reason to suffer silently with allergic effects on your ears or hearing. Your doctor can refer you to an allergist for a more comprehensive course of action.