A Head Cold + Hearing Loss = A Perfect Storm

Everyone hates a head cold. The watery eyes, runny nose, and stuffed up feeling are awful. Your ears and throat burn and you barely have the energy to hold up your own head, because it feels like it weighs two tons. And then there is the hearing loss. When I have a head cold, my hearing almost always takes a temporary turn for the worse. While I think this happens for everyone, when you start with less than stellar hearing to begin with, it can be a big issue.


With a head cold, fluid can build up in the middle ear, making it harder for sounds to travel to the eardrum. This type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss because it relates to difficulties in conducting the sound waves from the environment through to the eardrum. Sometimes fluid in the ear can also cause tinnitus. Layer this on top of sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss related to damage in the cochlea or the auditory nerve), and you have trouble. Big trouble. 

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the average loss in hearing from fluid in the ears is 24 decibels, which is about equivalent to the impact of wearing earplugs. In severe cases, the effect can be as high as 45 decibels, which is the level of conversational speech. This is a huge impact.

The good news is that the additional hearing loss that comes with a cold is usually temporary. And for me, when a head cold finally clears, and my “normal” impaired hearing returns, I am so grateful for it. In fact, I am often amazed at how well I am hearing, as if there has been some type of miraculous recovery.

In the mean time, here are my tips for surviving a cold with hearing loss:

  1. Rest Up: The goal is to get rid of the cold as quickly as possible and the best way to do this is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Chicken soup can’t hurt either if you can find someone to make some.
  2. Over the Counter Medicine: Try taking a decongestant, which can help shrink inflammation in the nasal passages and help dry up excess fluid. Nasal saline sprays can also help with this.
  3. Fess Up: I always try to let people know I will have a little extra trouble hearing when I have a head cold. It is funny, because since almost everyone can relate to this, people often do a better job remembering to speak up when I am sick than when I am healthy!

Readers, does your hearing take a turn for the worse when you are sick?

Living With Hearing Loss is also on Facebook and Twitter!

10 thoughts on “A Head Cold + Hearing Loss = A Perfect Storm

  1. Yes, this nails the phenomenon. But not only head colds . . . sinus infections and allergies effect my hearing much the same way. Thanks for all the discussions illuminating the various aspects of hearing loss.


  2. Sinus infections, colds and any allergies are all even terrible to have, but don’t have sinus, skin allergies and air allergies together. They really drained your energy and better not to be at work at all. Take you hearing aid/cochlear implant off and just rest is the very best. Beryl-Ann


  3. I caught a head cold just before Christmas 2016 and the hearing in my right ear decreased considerably. The end of January it had not gone away or gotten any better. My family doctor said there was a bug going around and many people in the area had it. Just struggle through it and it will go away. It finally did but my ear was plugged and my hearing was worse. I lost my balance one afternoon and went to the emergency room. They determined I had an ear infection and gave me antibiotics. One week later the infection was gone but my ear was still plugged up with fluid and my hearing loss was still there. Went to an ENT and they drained my ear and put in a tube. It is now 6 months later and my hearing in that ear has apparently improved but is not back to what it was before I caught the cold. My ENT has advised that I have mild hearing loss at low in mid frequencies and severe hearing loss at high frequencies. The loss correctable with hearing aids but they will never return to normal without assistance.
    After I caught the cold I could not hear our grandfather clock chime or strike unless I was within about four feet of it. I put an amplifier on it and was able to adjust the volume up about 400%. Now I can hear the clock over the main part of the house and others can hear it everywhere.


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