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.

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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?

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30 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.

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  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

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  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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  4. I am currently and continuing to go through hearing loss from a head cold I had 9 months ago. I have excellent hearing and no hearing problems except during and after a head cold. Every year I go through this and every time I lose my hearing in both ears. My left ear is my, “good ear” and my right ear is horrible. When talking to someone I have to position myself to their right side just so I would be able to hear them and I also have to read their lips. If someone stood 5 feet away from me calling my name I wouldn’t be able to hear them, expecially if they are behind me. So I must be alert and paying attention to my surroundings all the time. There have been many times I’ve had to apologize to strangers and people I haven’t informed about my hearing loss because it appears to them that I am being a b***h and/or snobby by not acknowledging them. ( when my name or number is called waiting for an open table at a restaurant, getting lunch meat at the deli, doctors office, hair/nail salon, ect. There are many situations like the ones I’ve mentioned that we don’t even notice that our hearing loss can appear intentionally rude to others.) Along with the hearing loss I also have vertigo. I have trouble getting in and out of trucks and riding the elevator is the worst. I have told my doctor about my hearing loss and he just tells me that I have to wait it out until my hearing returns. He always checks my ears and tells me everything looks healthy and every time I have to explain to him that the problem is my middle ear and Eustachian tube. I can feel and even hear the fluid sometimes swish swash coming from up my neck to my ear and blocking outside sound. Also I have zero pain, I just can’t hear. Once in a great while I regain 85% of my hearing when I lay down on my back or if I lay on my side the ear facing up to the ceiling regains hearing but as soon as I sit up it sounds like I’ve entered a tunnel and I can hear my breathing and heart beat inside my head. Another thing that worked once was rolling down my car window just a crack when I’m driving. The air pressure makes a suction and pops only the ear that is closest to the window. This time I’ve tried doing this and even took a drive going up and down the mountains but I’ve had no luck. I’ve tried “popping” my ear using the same method you describe and no luck. Plus I am scared to blow to much because a long time ago I really hurt myself doing this method and made things worse once before. If anyone has any tips and tricks I can try to regain my hearing please let me know or any suggestions on what I should tell my doctor to do or prescribe for me. Anything is extremely helpful right now. Sorry for the lengthy comment but I needed to get this frustration out because 9 months has been long enough to deal with this hearing loss from a tiny lousy head cold that happens every single year,lol. Thank You! 🙂

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  5. I find the slightly muffled effect due to a cold is susceptible to the same treatment as those annoying bursts of temporary high frequency tinnitus which occur every now and then. Repeated simulation of yawning sooner or later produces clicks and pops which clear everything. I don’t know what is actually happening but it usually works once the nose is clear. Until it is clear the hearing issue can come and go for several days, or so I have found. Sitting in the sun helps, as does exercise, but not too much of the latter until congestion has completely gone.

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  6. I have a problem in my ears but due to cold I feel mucus is comming from my ears when I use buds thick yellow liquid is there when I clean I hear clear sound but I m fed up eating antibiotics and consulting doctors he is telling to operate my ears

    Any other solution ?

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  7. I am 75, wear hearing aids and getting over a terrible cold/sinus infection. I still cannot hear much out of my right ear and I also have a thumping sound coming from it. Still on antibiotics. Not being able to hear right is so hard, you just want to be alone so you do not wonder what people are saying. I am hoping the hearing in that ear comes back in the next three days. No luck even finding a doctor right now as ent’s are booked up for weeks

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  8. I am sorry to ask again but i just read that if it is prolonged , so I should seek immediate help to get treatment , it is now more than a week without any improvement despite the improvement in the congestion at least partially , also I am able to find ENT doctor till Jan 28th , I need to ask , is the regular ER can help me , also is there anything I can do at home in addition to the Antihistamines , antibiotics and nasal drops flunoase ?
    thanks in advance

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    • It sounds like you should try to see a doctor as soon as possible. Can your primary care doctor see you sooner? Or an audiologist? Worst case you could head to the ER, but typically they are less familiar with hearing loss issues. I hope you can see someone soon! Best of luck to you!

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  9. Yeah this stuffs for real for sure! I hate not having normal hearing capabilities, it sucks. My older sister has some allergy medicine that cleared hers up. Course I should have written it down then. Not that I am happy that anyone else is experiencing this relatively specific hearing problem, but on the other hand it is good to know I am not on a path not well traveled.

    Having this condition also gave me empathy for my mom who for most of her later years has been fighting the hearing thing. We have talked about it quite a bit and it sounds like it could be what I deal with, Bless her heart.

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  10. Thanks for the information here. I’m someone with sickle cell anaemia who lives in Nigeria. 3 years ago, I woke up one morning with sudden noticeable hearing loss in my left ear. I went to see a doctor and did an audiometry test. It was determined that I had severe hearing loss in my left ear and mild hearing loss in my right ear. Betahistine and Nicotinic acid was prescribed for me which I took for several weeks without any significant improvement. I’ve been unable to answer the phone with my left ear ever since, as I can only hear very low speech sounds with it and sometimes I can’t make out what is being said listening only with my left ear though I hear sounds with it. Three days ago 5th August 2018, I slept in the afternoon not knowing that the window of the room I slept in was open (the weather has been typically cold for a few days) and I’ve been taking some medicines for body pain for a couple of days prior. I woke up to muffled/cloudy hearing in my right (better) ear. I assumed it could be a side effect of the pain medicine, so I stopped taking it and about an hour later took 2 tablets of Nicotinic acid, there wasn’t any significant improvement. By Monday afternoon I noticed a slight improvement but my hearing was still not back at where it was. On Monday Evening I bought betahistine and have been taking it since then along with Nicotinic acid without any real improvement.

    Waking up today after a cold night in which I slept in a pullover and wrapped a cloth around my head, my hearing seem worse. The radio was on and I couldn’t make out what was being said, just hearing sounds even when I in the room where the radio was. Meanwhile, I usually could hear some speech from the radio from another room before. I couldn’t hear what my wife was saying Except when I stand beside her and I still didn’t hear some words clearly, same with my young kids. Nigeria is a developing country and our healthcare system is very broken. The hospitals are crowded, it takes a whole day to see a doctor sometimes. And the hospitals are underequipped, I know if I go to see a Dr they are not likely to recommend anything different from what I’m already doing, as I’ve called my brother who is an ophthalmologist and he has discussed with his colleagues on what I should do, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing. I’ll still try to see a doctor today regardless. But I’m very scared, I’m only in my late 30s, I’ve been battling with other medical issues which I’m grateful to have survived. I don’t want to lose my hearing and my job. I’m scared and depressed. I’m praying that my hearing be restored miraculously. I will appreciate any further tips. Thanks.

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    • I am sorry to hear about your trouble. I think reaching out to an ENT doctor is an important step for you. Do you have access to an audiologist who could help you with hearing aids? Wishing you the best of luck.

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  11. Yes I was eating in a restaurant with my daughter and she waved her hand like I was talking to loud . It was embarrassing . To me I was talking at a normal level . It made not want to say anything else.

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