Editor's note: This article was originally posted on June 12, 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, we've updated it to republish today.
Your eyes are itchy and your nose is runny – typical for allergy season, you say to yourself. But could your allergies also account for your diminished sense of hearing? Yes, say hearing health professionals, with symptoms that can include itching, swelling, vertigo and fullness in the ear.
Allergies and hearing loss
Your immune system responds to allergens by producing antibodies that release histamine. The release of histamine produces an allergic response; the resulting sneezing, itching and congestion also increases mucus production, which can cause conductive hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when something, such as fluid or ear wax, prevents sound waves from flowing through the ear and into the tiny bones of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is curable, but it makes it temporarily difficult to hear.
Remember, it’s never advisable to attempt to scratch an itch by putting anything inside your ear canal. Instead, wash your ear gently with a warm, wrung-out washcloth and dry it thoroughly. If that doesn’t help, see your doctor. He or she will be able clean your ear and examine it to determine what is causing the itching.
Types of allergy-related hearing loss
Your ear has three major sections, all of which can be affected by allergies.
Outer ear: Allergic skin reactions can cause itching and swelling of both the outer ear and ear canal. Some individuals may be allergic to their laundry detergent, fragrance or earrings. Others may have allergies to household pets, especially dogs and cats.
Middle ear: If swelling blocks the opening to your middle ear, your Eustachian tube may not be able to drain properly. This can cause fluid and pressure to build up, giving you a feeling of fullness in the affected ear and providing a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and subsequent infection. This fluid buildup may also trigger balance problems, such as vertigo, giving you a feeling of being dizzy and light headed.
Inner ear: Allergies may also diminish hearing in individuals with inner ear disorders such as Meniere's disease.
Allergy and hearing aids
In addition to causing you some discomfort, allergens can also clog the microphone ports in your hearing aids, affecting the way your hearing aids function. You can replace the covers of microphone ports easily. Of course, regular cleaning of your hearing aid is always advisable, especially during allergy season.
Some individuals seem to experience an allergic reaction to their hearing aids. If this is the case, be sure to talk to your hearing health professional. The allergy may be caused by poor fit, moisture in the ear, wax accumulation, dry skin or an allergy to the earmold material.
The good news
Most of the time, any hearing loss you experience during allergy season is typically temporary. Normal hearing usually returns after your symptoms subside or your infection clears. If they don’t — or you experience extreme pain and discomfort — see your audiologist to make sure your condition doesn’t need long-term treatment. If you don’t have a trusted hearing health professional, visit our directory to find one in your community.