For many Australians seeing the weather gradually get warmer evokes fond memories of springtime picnics or trips to the beach. For others, the sunshine is an omen for an approaching storm of allergies. Just ask our staff member Ellie, when hay fever season hits – she has to keep a pack of tissues on her at all times. Many people are plagued by sneezing or itchy eyes, but sometimes allergies can cause much more severe symptoms.
Hay fever affects 1 in 5 Australians and is one of the most common allergies in the world. If you’re someone who has felt the effects before, you know the sneezing can be taxing, and the itchy eyes leave you looking like you’re either permanently exhausted or prone to having breakdowns. But, aside from the common reactions, allergies can affect the ears.
Hearing loss caused by allergies takes the form of a conductive hearing loss. This means the transmission of sound is blocked during its journey from the outer or middle ear into the inner ear. Allergies could cause hearing loss in two ways. One is if a skin reaction like itching or swelling causes the ear canal to close, it can prevent you from hearing clearly. Luckily this is quite rare. The other way allergies could affect your hearing is by fluid build-up in the middle ear, and the hearing loss is generally temporary.
How allergies can cause hearing loss
Allergies such as hay fever tend to rise to the surface in the warmer months due to an increase in pollen. Our bodies treat pollen and other irritants as a harmful substance. To fight these irritants, the body releases a chemical called histamine (hence many allergy medications being called antihistamines). Once histamine is released, it can result in the membrane lining of your Eustachian Tube (a tube connecting the ears and nose to the back of the throat) to become inflamed. And inflammation of the Eustachian Tube can bring about an imbalance in pressure, creating the feeling of blocked ears (similar to the feeling when you are going up in an aeroplane).
Common symptoms of hay fever are sneezing and congestion, resulting in an excessive mucus build-up in the middle ear (like when you’re congested from a cold). As a result, this can also cause a feeling that your ears are full or clogged. This prevents sound waves from vibrating the tiny bones inside your middle ear that help you to hear sounds clearly. An excessive build-up of mucus can also prevent the Eustachian tube from draining properly, causing added pressure to the ears. Since fluid build-up can be a breeding ground for bacteria, it could also lead to ear infections and further damage your hearing.
Though the inner ear is the part least likely to be affected by allergies, if infected, it can cause symptoms like dizziness, pressure, and tinnitus. Additionally, while the exact cause of Meniere’s disease remains unknown, allergies are thought to be one of the potential triggers.
Sudden hearing loss
While hearing loss due to allergies is usually temporary, it shouldn’t be confused for sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness. SSHL can occur without warning and happen gradually over the course of several days or all at once. It is caused by factors including head trauma, autoimmune disease, viral or bacterial infections, poor blood circulation, the use of ototoxic drugs, or neurological disease. SSHL can occur along with feelings of fullness or pressure in the ear, tinnitus, or even dizziness.
Similar to hearing loss caused by allergies, SSHL can also be temporary if treated quickly and adequately. But the key is to have it diagnosed. If you experience any sudden hearing loss, don’t delay seeing a doctor or hearing care professional. They can evaluate your ears and hearing and determine if the hearing loss is due to an obstruction like swelling or fluid (as caused by allergies) or if it’s the result of a more severe issue preventing your ears from processing sound correctly. It is essential that SSHL is treated very quickly.
What to do if you suspect you are suffering from hearing loss
Since hearing loss can significantly affect your health, it should never be taken lightly. Even if you think it’s just a symptom of your seasonal allergies, delaying treatment can make its effects even worse. While it may be difficult to tell the difference between hearing loss caused by allergies and sudden hearing loss, at Hearing Sense, we can make the distinction and recommend the best course of treatment to protect your hearing.
If you are starting to feel the symptoms of allergies increasing with the warmer weather and suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss. Or, even if you’re the lucky ones and do not suffer from allergies but think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, give us a call on 8331 8047 today to book a FREE hearing test.