Allergies and Hearing Loss: What Patients Need to Know for Spring

Sneezing and congestion may be the most obvious symptoms of seasonal allergies, but they can also cause lasting damage to hearing.

Spring is known for two things: flowers and seasonal allergies. Your patients are probably familiar with the itching, sneezing, and congestion that come with the season, but they might not realize how it affects their hearing.

Hearing loss is less common than other allergy symptoms and is often mild. Caused by an allergic reaction, it’s often ignored in order to address the more annoying effects that can be solved with a quick trip to the pharmacy for decongestants. Fortunately, most forms of allergy-related hearing loss are the result of simple congestion. The eustachian tubes — small vents in the back of the throat that regulate air pressure in the middle ear — can become clogged by mucus or swelling as easily as the sinuses or nasal cavity, and this produces a feeling of fullness in the ear, causing speech to sound distant or muffled. Once the congestion dissipates, however, the eustachian tubes usually clear and hearing returns to normal.

On rare occasions, though, the eustachian tubes don’t clear, and that’s where the real trouble starts. Fluid gathering in the middle ear provides an ideal incubation chamber for an infection, and if too much fluid or air builds up too quickly with no drain available, pressure can cause the eardrum to rupture. Either of these outcomes can result in significant hearing damage, but fortunately, with a bit of vigilance, patients can protect their hearing throughout the year.

If they experience any of the following symptoms during allergy season, refer them to a hearing care specialist immediately:

  • A sudden change in hearing abilities
  • Voices sounding muffled or muddied
  • Feeling a need to “pop” the ears
  • Ears that feel “full”
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Nagging pain within the ear, especially if it is prolonged or seems to be getting worse with time
  • Fluid discharge from the ear

The study dovetails with other research into connections between hearing loss and cognitive decline.

Johns Hopkins and National Institute on Aging researchers, for example, sought to discover whether hearing loss might be one of the mechanisms responsible for dementia. In a prospective study of 639 people ages 36 to 90, the risk of “incident dementia” — defined as dementia that develops over the course of the study — for those with hearing loss was cleanly established during a follow-up period that lasted nearly 12 years.

Researchers found:

  • Those with mild hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia.
  • Those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to develop dementia.
  • Those with severe hearing loss were nearly five times as likely to develop dementia.

The key to protecting your hearing is detecting potential problems as early as possible. Medications are available to reduce the risk of infection and alleviate congestion, and surgical intervention can be prescribed for severe cases.

Still have questions? If you would like to consult with one of our hearing care professionals to learn more about available hearing aid features, contact us today and schedule an appointment at one of our convenient office locations.