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Can Allergies Cause Clogged Ears?

This article explores how allergies impact the ears, and how to effectively treat ear pain from allergies. Read more about it right here!

Nicole Brener
Author:
Nicole Brener
Can Allergies Cause Clogged Ears?
Nicole Brener
Nicole Brener

Copywriter based in Miami, FL. Leads copywriting workshops and mentors women entrepreneurs at the Idea Center of Miami Dade College.

If you've ever experienced clogged ears, you know how uncomfortable and painful it can be. A common question is whether allergies can contribute to clogged ears. The answer is yes.

Allergies, an immune response to typically harmless substances, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander, can contribute to clogged ears, ear pain and infections. The inflammatory response triggered by allergies leads to fluid buildup and increased pressure in the sinuses and ear canals.

This article will explore how allergies impact the ears, the connection between clogged ears and allergies, and how to effectively treat ear pain from allergies.

How Allergies Impact Your Ears

In the case of nasal allergies, most common during the spring, symptoms usually include a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes.

The inflammation and fluid buildup in the sinuses can increase the pressure in the Eustachian tubes inside the ear, which regulate air pressure and drain fluid from the middle ear. When inflamed, they can lead to clogged ears, reduced hearing, and even pain. 

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Can Allergies Lead to Ear Infection?

If you suffer from chronic ear infections and frequent allergies at the same time, these two may be related. The fluid buildup in your ear can promote bacterial growth and lead to ear infections.  Symptoms of ear infection can include ear pain, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), difficulty hearing, clogged ears, and balance issues.

The best way to treat allergies is by practicing avoidance, keeping your home clean and dust-free, using high-quality HEPA filters, and keeping a distance from pets if they cause allergic reactions.

Medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays can offer short-term relief, and you can talk to your doctor about immunotherapy. This long-term allergy solution works by introducing small amounts of allergen extracts into your body so the immune system can build up a tolerance.  

Man sneezing outdoors
Man sneezing outdoors

Why Do Your Ears Feel Clogged?

When the pressure in your middle ear differs from the pressure in the outside environment, it can lead to clogged ears and feelings of discomfort, stuffiness, or fullness.

Small tubes called eustachian tubes regulate the pressure in your middle ear. Usually, the eustachian tubes open when you swallow or yawn, equalizing the pressure in your middle ear (that's that popping feeling!) You may feel ear pressure or clogged ears if the eustachian tubes become narrowed or blocked.

Your ears might feel clogged for several reasons, and it's important to note that a healthcare professional should evaluate persistent or severe symptoms. Here are some common reasons for a sensation of clogged ears:

8 Reasons Why Your Ears Feel Clogged

Earwax Buildup

Earwax is naturally made by the body and protects the inner parts of your ear from dust, foreign particles, and microorganisms. It also protects ear canal skin from irritation due to water. However, too much earwax buildup can block the ear canal, causing ear pressure. Earwax buildup is also a common reason for temporary hearing loss. Contact your doctor if earwax buildup needs to be removed.

Allergies and Colds

Nasal inflammation and congestion that come with allergies or a cold can prevent the eustachian tubes from properly equalizing pressure within the middle ear, causing clogged ears. 

Fluid in The Ear

Fluid can accumulate in the middle ear due to colds, allergies, sinus infections, or Eustachian tube dysfunction. This can create a sensation of fullness or clogged ears.

High Altitude

Rapid changes in air pressure, such as during air travel, climbing a high mountain, or scuba diving, can affect the Eustachian tubes' ability to equalize pressure in the middle ear, leading to a feeling of clogged ears.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses, the hollow spaces in your face, become inflamed. This is often due to a viral infection and leads to feelings of pressure and clogged ears, among other symptoms.

Infections

Ear infections in the outer or middle ear can cause clogged ears. These infections are usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and sometimes drainage.

Meniere's Disease

This chronic disorder of the inner ear affects balance and hearing and can cause symptoms like dizziness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and ear pressure.

Foreign Objects

Typically more common among small children, when a foreign object is stuck in your ear, it can create ear pressure or pain.

Swimmers Ear

Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is an outer ear canal infection. It often occurs when water, bacteria, or fungi enter the ear canal and cause inflammation. Swimmer's ear can result in symptoms such as itching, redness, swelling, and pain in the ear. It is more common in swimmers due to the prolonged exposure of the ear canal to moisture, but it can also occur in non-swimmers.

Exposure to Loud Noises

Exposure to loud sounds can contribute to the feeling of clogged ears, a phenomenon known as temporary threshold shift (TTS). When you are exposed to loud sounds, especially for an extended period, it can affect the functioning of the auditory system.

Loud noises can lead to overstimulation of the hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain. This overstimulation can temporarily reduce the sensitivity of these cells, causing temporary hearing loss or clogging in the ears. 

This shift in the hearing threshold typically recovers over time once the exposure to loud sounds is reduced or stopped.

In addition to temporary effects, chronic exposure to loud noises over time can contribute to permanent hearing damage.

How to Treat Clogged Ears

The treatment for clogged ears will depend on what’s causing it.

Symptom Treatment
Earwax Buildup Earwax removal options include mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide to dissolve accumulated wax in the ear canal. Special tools can be used for manual removal, but it's crucial to do this under a doctor's supervision.
Allergies and Colds OTC antihistamines (e.g., Claritin, Zyrtec) and corticosteroid nasal sprays (Flonase, Nasonex) can ease allergy symptoms. Nasal irrigation with a neti pot is also an option.
Fluid Buildup Addressing the underlying cause of fluid buildup is key for drainage. Surgery may be necessary to alleviate pressure and promote drainage in cases of persistent ear fluid.
High Altitude Yawning or swallowing can open your eustachian tubes and equalize pressure. For relief, an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant nasal spray may be considered, but it's important to avoid using decongestants in young children.
Sinusitis Opt for OTC decongestants orally or as nasal sprays to alleviate sinus congestion. Consider OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and swelling relief. Nasal irrigation with a neti pot is also a helpful option.
Infections Certain ear infections may resolve without antibiotics. To alleviate pain, OTC pain medication or eardrops may be suggested. If a bacterial infection is suspected, oral antibiotics or prescribed ear drops may be necessary.
Foreign Objects Visit a doctor to avoid pushing the foreign object further inside the ear canal if you cannot gently remove visible objects or tilt your head to the side, utilizing gravity for object removal.
Exposure to Loud Noises Hearing protection, such as earplugs or noise-cancelling headsets can help prevent short-term and long-term effects on hearing.
Swimmers’ Ear Ear drops and sometimes antibiotics if there's a bacterial infection. Keeping the ears dry and avoiding inserting objects into the ear can help prevent swimmer's ear.

How Do Allergies Contribute to Ear Problems?

Untreated allergies can make you vulnerable to ear infections and play a role in a disorder called Meniere's disease. In this condition, inner ear irritation produces tinnitus, vertigo, clogged ears, and hearing loss that may fluctuate in severity from day to day.

Learning where the problem stems from is crucial to getting the right treatment for your ear and hearing symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, consider consulting an allergy specialist or your primary care doctor to identify allergens that might affect your ears.

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