Each new year and every new season brings with it the stuffy nose and itchy eyes that means allergies, but does that also mean you’ll have hearing loss? It might surprise you to know there is a connection for many people. You don’t necessarily associate hearing with the immune system, after all. It is not that simple. Your hearing is a complex sense, one that can be affected by an allergic reaction. So, what should you do if your allergies affect your hearing?
An allergic reaction is part of body’s internal security plan managed by the immune system. It monitors different areas to detect intruders such as an infection. When bacteria gets in, the immune system works to fight it off. It also creates a special tag, known as an antibody, that marks this invader for future reference.
Let’s say a coworker exposes you to the influenza virus. If you have come up against this strain before, an antibody exists and can send a signal warning the immune system of the invasion. In response, the immune system releases histamine — the ground troops that fight off invaders — and that typically means inflammation of some kind. In the case of the flu, your sinus cavities and mucous membranes might swell in an attempt to trap the virus.
The problem is this system is not perfect. Sometimes innocuous substances like dust or pollen get flagged in error. Once flagged, they are always seen as a threat. This means everytime you come in contact with an allergen — that’s the dust or pollen — there is an immune system response. By definition, an allergy means you are hypersensitive to something that is harmless to most people.
Seasonal Allergies and Hearing Loss
Each year millions of people in this U.S. seek treatment for seasonal allergies. The other symptoms like congestion might keep them suffering enough that they fail to notice a change in their hearing. The ears rely on sound waves reaching a nerve in the inner ear, so they can be translated into something the brain can understand and allergies interfere with that process.
An allergic response typically leads to swelling and congestion. They, in turn, change the fluid pressure and prevent sound from traveling to the inner ear. You might notice pressure or a sense of fullness in the ears when that happens. The body produces more earwax in response to an allergy, too, creating a buildup that blocks sound.
The Skin and Allergies
An allergic response can affect the skin with swelling and an itchy rash, too. The ear has a considerable amount of skin that is at risk when allergies hit. There is the skin that covers the outer ear, known as the pinna, for example. The ear canal is covered with skin that can swell and itch enough to close the passage and prevent sound waves from moving forward.
Allergies and the Middle Ear
The middle ear is the area most often affected by an allergic reaction, though. This sensitive region contains tubes that allow fluid to drain and control the pressure inside the ear. An allergy can close the tubes allowing fluid and pressure to build, making it hard to hear.
How to Recognize Allergy-Related Hearing Loss
If you are one of the millions of people with seasonal allergies, these symptoms will be familiar:
- Itching inside the ear canal
- Chronic ear infections
- Fullness inside the ear
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
When added to already existing conductive hearing loss, you can be left unable to hear.
Any time your hearing changes suddenly, consider seeing a doctor, especially if you don’t usually have allergies. That change might be the first sign of a lasting medical problem like high blood pressure or diabetes. If allergies are a way of life for you, however, then treating them is probably all it will take to get your hearing back.