The Link Between Allergies and Ear Infections

Untreated Allergies May Lead to Frequent Ear Infections

Ear infections are common, especially among young children. Some people have a tendency to develop frequent ear infections, which may be referred to as recurrent ear infections or chronic ear infections. There are several causes of middle ear infections, and allergies can predispose some people to ear infections.

Brown haired woman holding in a sneeze
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The Eustachian tube is a small tube that leads from the middle ear into the back of the throat. When it becomes blocked, mucus, fluid, bacteria, and other germs may become trapped and multiply.

Normally, this tube opens and closes in order to regulate the environment in the middle ear space. Conditions that may cause the Eustachian tube to become impaired include (but are not limited to) congestion and inflammation.

In children, the Eustachian tube is naturally smaller and positioned more horizontally than in adults. The Eustachian tube is more likely to become blocked in small children because of its smaller diameter. It may also be more difficult for fluid and other debris to properly drain from the Eustachian tube in small children because of the horizontal angle.

How Allergies Can Cause Ear Infections

Middle ear infections are often viral. They usually start when someone has a viral infection that may initially cause a cold.

But ear infections may also occur when allergies cause congestion and inflammation in the nasal passageways, sinuses, and Eustachian tubes. This can occur regardless of the type of allergies an individual has, including food allergies.

If you have frequent allergies or ear infections, you can begin by discussing your symptoms with your family doctor. You might need to have allergy tests and/or get a referral to an allergist/immunologist or an otolaryngologist (ENT), a doctor who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat.

Ear Infection Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Treating Allergies

If you have allergies, there are several types of treatment your doctor may recommend. Avoiding your allergy triggers is the first line of defense, especially if it is a food allergy. This may be easier said than done, however, if you are allergic to something like pollen or dust, and your doctor may recommend medications to treat your symptoms.

One of the most common allergy treatments is the administration of a daily antihistamine. Newer antihistamines that are not likely to cause drowsiness are often prescribed—these include Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra. Sometimes nasal sprays such as Xtoro, Flonase, or Nasacort are prescribed to reduce congestion.

Allergy medications are used for treating allergies, but there is no evidence to support the use of antihistamines or nasal steroids as a treatment or prevention for middle ear infections or effusions. Treating allergies is important for comfort during allergy season, but allergy treatments will not improve ear infections.

Treatment of Ear Infections

In general, uncomplicated ear infections with fever less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit will resolve on their own. Pain can be relieved with over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If you or your child are having frequent ear infections, your doctor may recommend the surgical placement of ventilation tubes to help your Eustachian tube stay open.

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  2. Schilder AG, Bhutta MF, Butler CC, et al. Eustachian tube dysfunction: consensus statement on definition, types, clinical presentation and diagnosisClin Otolaryngol. 2015;40(5):407–411. doi:10.1111/coa.12475

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