Man blowing his nose sick with a common cold

While everybody has experienced a runny nose, we don’t commonly mention other kinds of cold symptoms because they’re less common. One type of cold you don’t often hear about is the one that moves into one or more ears. While you may generally think of colds as harmless, here’s why this ear-related cold symptom should never be disregarded.

What does it feel like when you have a cold in your ear?

Your sinuses are directly interconnected to your ears, so it’s normal to feel some blockage in your ears during a cold. This blockage is usually relieved when you take a decongestant to relieve sinus symptoms.

But if you feel pain inside the ears, this is something you shouldn’t ever disregard, even when you have a cold. If the cold moves into the ear, the eardrum can be infected. And that will trigger inflammation. The immune system responds to the cold by producing fluid that can build up on the eardrum. So a person who is coping with an inflamed eardrum might also experience a slow leaking of fluid from the ear. This leak is most obvious when you sleep on your side because the leak is so slow.

This is known as conductive hearing loss and impacts how well you hear over the short term. But long term hearing loss can also occur if this inflammation causes the eardrum to burst. In turn, more permanent damage takes place to the hearing nerves from the inflammation, which is called sensorineural hearing loss.

Waiting could cost you

Come in and see us if you’re experiencing any pain in your ears. It’s not unusual for a primary care physician to wait until the cold is cleared up because they assume the ear pain will go away with it. Occasionally, a patient will even forget to mention any pain they may be experiencing in their ear. But if you’re experiencing pain, the infection has advanced to a point where it is likely doing damage to the ear. In order to prevent further damage, the ear infection needs to be quickly addressed.

Many people who experience ear pain during a cold, get over their cold only to notice that the ear pain lingers. This is usually when a person finally decides to visit a hearing specialist. But, a lot of damage is usually done by this time. Irreversible hearing loss is often the result and that’s even more true with people who get ear infections regularly.

Every time you have an infection, eardrum perforations and scar tissue can occur which, over time, can affect hearing acuity. In a normal, healthy individual, the eardrum acts as a buffer between the middle ear and inner ear. Ear infections that were once confined to the middle ear can get into the inner ear if the eardrum is lacerated even once. When the infection goes into the inner ear, it can irreversibly harm the nerve cells needed to hear.

If you waited to get that ear infection addressed, what should you do?

Don’t beat yourself up. A cold with pain in the ear can actually be a more severe cold than most individuals may think. You should make an appointment for a hearing test as soon as you can if you are experiencing hearing loss after a cold.

We will determine if you’re coping with conductive, or temporary hearing loss. If this is the case, you may have an obstruction in your ear that needs to be extracted by a professional. If the hearing loss is permanent (sensorineural), we can talk about options that will help you hear better, including new hearing technology.

If you’re struggling to hear after a cold, make an appointment asap.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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