4 Ways a Cold Can Affect Your Hearing

February 13, 2023 |read icon 4 min read

Man blowing his nose while holding a cup of warm coffee.Adults typically have at least two colds every year. Children often have more. Colds are caused by rhinoviruses disguised as invisible droplets in the air we breathe or on surfaces we touch. Scientists have discovered that there are more than 160 different types of rhinoviruses that can attack the immune system and make you sick.

Common cold symptoms include a sore throat, stuffy nose and swollen sinuses. But sometimes, a cold virus can cause fluid buildup in the middle ear, causing infection. This can block how sounds travel through the ear canal. Here are four things to know about how a cold can affect your hearing.

1. Ear congestion – You may notice clicking in your ear when you have a cold. Sometimes conversations and noises sound muffled. These are symptoms of congestion caused by fluid buildup in the middle ear. Congestion can lead to an ear infection from bacteria or a virus and cause temporary hearing loss.

The fluid, which may stay in the middle ear for weeks or even months, usually goes away independently. However, if the problem lingers, contact your doctor’s office. You may need a prescription to help the ear heal. Once the infection is gone, your hearing should return to normal.

2. Ear ringing – Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can begin or increase with a head cold or the flu. Typically, the ringing reduces when cold symptoms go away.

Medical professionals advise individuals with a cold to get plenty of rest, avoid vigorous exercise, drink lots of fluids and stay away from others to prevent the spread of germs. Several over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, can help clear plugged ears and sinuses.

3. Serious illness
A cold usually lasts 7 to 10 days. Often people get colds in winter because cold air kills bacteria-fighting cells in the nose, lowering immune response.

However, a cold also can develop into a more severe illness. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Coughing up large amounts of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent dizziness
  • Inability to keep down fluids or foods
  • Facial pain, throbbing headache, or a painful sore throat that interferes with swallowing
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Fever of 101 degrees or higher lasting more than one day
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Earache

4. Lasting symptoms
Fluid buildup in the ear that lasts more than a few weeks may put pressure on the hair cells in the ear, leading to injury and permanent hearing loss.

    Long-term ear infections also can cause:

    • meningitis – infection in the fluid protecting the brain and spinal cord
    • labyrinthitis – infection in the ear that diminishes balance
    • facial paralysis – nerve damage that causes one or both sides of the face to sag

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