Allergies and Your Hearing
Allergies can affect your hearing on a temporary basis. It is rare in adults for allergies to cause ear infections or permanent hearing problems.
Allergies often lead to “eustachian tube dysfunction.” The eustachian tube is a tube that connects your throat, nose, and ears. Have you ever held your nose and blew to try to “pop” your ears if they felt plugged? You were blowing that air up through the eustachian tube to the middle ear space behind your eardrum.
The eustachian tube plays an important role in keeping our ears at the proper pressure. Our ears should naturally “pop” or pressurize when we change elevations, yawn, chew, and swallow.
Pollen and cigarette smoke (even second-hand cigarette smoke) are a common cause of irritation and inflammation of the eustachian tubes. Inflammation affects their ability to pressurize the ears, and your ears might feel “plugged” or “stuffed up.” This condition rarely causes any pain, but it can be very annoying.
Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction in Adults
Typical signs of eustachian tube dysfunction include:
- Your own voice sounds “hollow,” like you’re in a well.
- Feeling like you need to “pop” your ears.
- Muffled hearing.
- Pressure in your ears.
How is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Treated?
Most of the time, eustachian tube dysfunction and its symptoms will clear up once your allergies improve. Many people do not do anything to treat their eustachian tube dysfunction. It is an annoying but generally harmless condition in adults.
However, if it is very bothersome or is not clearing up, you should follow up with your primary care provider to see if allergy medication, specifically a steroidal nasal spray, is the right medication for you*. If you are prescribed allergy medications, you often must use them for an entire month to see if they help you. If after a month you are not showing any signs of improvement, return to your primary care provider to see if a different medication is needed.
*Please note that audiologists are not able to prescribe medications; all medications must be prescribed by your primary care provider. We also do not recommend the use of over-the-counter nasal sprays. The sprays recommended by your doctor are safer and more effective. Always discuss any medications you are taking, especially those purchased over-the-counter, with your doctor. They could affect other medications you take or health issues you have.
Allergies and eustachian tube dysfunction can have greater impact on children. The ear anatomy of a child is different from that of an adult, which makes children more likely to get ear infections. With allergies, negative pressure builds up behind your child’s eardrum, and this can lead to an ear infection and temporary hearing loss. If left untreated, speech and language delays, learning delays, and even behavioral issues can occur. (See more information on ear infections on this site.)
Symptoms of Allergies and Eustachian Tube Dysfunction in Children
The best way to tell if your child has allergy problems is to listen to your child’s breathing. You can do this at night while they are sleeping.
- Does your child snore?
- Does your child seem to struggle to breathe through his or her nose?
- Does your child breathe through his or her mouth instead of the nose?
- Of course, your child may also have red, watery eyes, a plugged or runny nose, and/or a cough. Any of these symptoms may indicate your child has allergies.
If you suspect your child has allergies, a visit to his or her doctor is needed. Allergy medication may be needed to treat the allergies, which will reduce the inflammation in the eustachian tubes, and help your child hear normally again. Children do not typically have to be on medications year-round, just in those months when their allergy symptoms worsen.