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Allergy or Sudden Hearing Loss—Can You Tell the Difference?

As the transition to spring continues, many across the country will contend with allergies and their effects on the body—runny nose, sore throat, and itchy eyes. But did you know seasonal allergies can also affect your ears? Itching, swelling, pressure, dizziness, tinnitus, and even hearing loss are all possible symptoms. Though such conditions are usually temporary, even brief losses of hearing can be scary. So how can you tell if your hearing loss is due to allergies, or a more serious condition?

How allergies affect hearing

Hearing loss caused by allergies is often a form of conductive hearing loss. The transmission of sound is blocked during its journey from the outer or middle ear into the inner ear. How does this happen? If allergies cause a reaction on the skin like itching or swelling of the outer ear and ear canal, it can prevent you from hearing clearly.

Allergies can also lead to fluid building up in your middle ear, and this fluid can block your Eustachian tube (like when you’re congested from a cold). As a result, you can get the feeling that your ears are full or clogged and experience some measure of hearing loss. Since fluid buildup can be a breeding ground for bacteria, it can 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. For those who have been diagnosed with Meniere’s, an allergic reaction in the inner ear can increase the likelihood of developing hearing loss.

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 often occurs 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 properly and quickly. But 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 serious issue preventing your ears from processing sound properly.

Don’t ignore 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, a medical professional can make the distinction and recommend the best course of treatment to protect your hearing.