Whether it’s caused by pollen, grass or pet dander, allergies can make you miserable with itchy and watery eyes and a runny nose. But did you know that allergies can also affect hearing? Ears can get stuffy and itchy too, leading to a temporary hearing loss.

Structure of the ear

Your ear has three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. All three areas can be impacted by allergic reactions. Your outer ear might itch or become red or swollen, while the middle ear could experience a build-up of fluid, leading to earaches or pressure. With inner ear allergies, you may experience vertigo (dizziness), tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and possibly deafness, which affects people with inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s disease causes ringing in the ears, a feeling as if you’re spinning and fluctuating hearing loss that becomes progressive and ultimately permanent.

How allergies impact the ear

An allergy is an immune response by the body to a foreign substance that causes hypersensitivity, such as pollen, grass, fur, some foods, dust mites or drugs.

Most allergies commonly affect the middle ear because of the Eustachian tube. This is a part of the ear that works to release pressure, sort of like a drainage tube. When an allergic reaction causes swelling or mucus to form, pressure builds and the Eustachian tube doesn’t drain properly, leading to difficulty hearing. It may feel as if your ears are full or that everything sounds dampened. This is usually a temporary problem known as conductive hearing loss.

The Eustachian tube also plays a role in balance. If it’s blocked due to an allergic reaction, you might feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Sometimes, mostly in children, the fluid in the ear becomes infected. This is known as otitis media, a middle ear infection. If these infections occur often, a doctor may recommend allergy testing.

Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)

An autoimmune reaction occurs when the body produces an allergic reaction to itself. AIED occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the inner ear. This leads to a rapid hearing loss, as quickly as just a few weeks. It may occur in one ear or both, possibly at different times.

It’s not known why AIED happens. It may be more likely in people with other autoimmune issues such as arthritis, allergies or rashes. About one-third of those with AIED also have symptoms of Meniere’s disease.

For most people, allergies are seasonal and can be treated with over-the-counter medicines such as antihistamines and decongestants. These types of drugs will help with all symptoms, including itchy eyes, a watery or stuffy nose and full-feeling ears. Allergies affect hearing on a short-term basis by making it difficult to hear. If any difficulty hearing continues, it’s best to see a health care professional.