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.

headcold91913

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!

14 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.

    Like

  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

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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! 🙂

    Like

  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.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s