What You Need to Know About Ear Pain and Allergies

Allergies do not cause ear pain on their own, but they can potentially lead to ear pain by giving rise to an infection in the ear.

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, can result in eustachian tube dysfunction due to swelling in the nasal mucosa, which lines the inside of your nose. Since the eustachian tube connects the nose to the middle ear, fluid can build up in the middle ear and cause an infection if the tube does not function properly.

Ear pain is one of the symptoms of a middle ear infection, also called otitis media. Other possible symptoms include ear fullness, pressure, popping, and decreased hearing.

Woman with earache

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Ear Pain Causes

There are many different causes of ear pain, including:

  • Ear infections: An ear infection can occur in the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
  • Pressure changes: Changes in pressure can occur during flying or scuba diving.
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction: The eustachian tube helps regulate pressure within the ear. If it malfunctions, ear pain can occur.
  • Earwax: If the wax in your ear builds up, it may lead to ear pain.
  • Foreign object in the ear: An object such as a small toy, a peanut, or insects can get inside the ear. This is most common in children.
  • Insect bites: An insect bite can lead to ear pain in rare cases.
  • Skin growths and conditions: A cholesteatoma, a noncancerous skin growth, can lead to pain in the ear. Eczema that develops in the ear can also cause pain.
  • Blood vessel inflammation: This can occur if your blood vessels become inflamed. Typically, this happens because of chronic ear infections.
  • Relapsing polychondritis: This degenerative disease causes inflammation in the cartilage, including ear cartilage.
  • Damage or injury: If any sort of damage or trauma occurs to the ear, it can lead to ear pain. This can be anything from frostbite or a burn to a damaging disorder known as malignant otitis externa, a bacterial infection that involves the external auditory canal and skull base.
  • Mastoiditis: This type of infection affects the bone just behind the ear.
  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ): TMJ affects the jaw, but the pain from the disorder can radiate into the ears.
  • Dental issues: Things such as cavities can lead to ear pain if they are left untreated.

Other conditions can also lead to ear pain in rarer cases, including:

  • Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes paralysis of the facial nerve and a rash affecting the ear or mouth
  • Some types of arthritis
  • Acid reflux
  • Tumors in the head or neck
  • Thyroiditis

Why Are Ear Infections More Common in Children?

The eustachian tube spends most of its time closed and typically only opens if it needs to during activities such as swallowing, yawning, or chewing. As a person ages, the eustachian tubes can change. Adults typically have a vertical tube that is wide and rigid, making it easier for any fluids to pass through and drain out of the ear. In children, that draining process is more difficult because their tubes are more horizontal, more narrow, shorter, and less stiff. This is why children are more prone to ear infections.

How Allergies Cause Ear Pain

When a person is near something they are allergic to, the allergen binds to their allergic antibodies that are bound to mast cells or basophils. This process results in the release of histamines. Histamines are compounds that play a role in the body’s immune response. They trigger an inflammatory response.

Nasal allergies, specifically, are to blame when it comes to ear pain. This is because the inflammation that occurs in the mucous membranes that line the nasal and ear cavities can cause a blockage in the ear. When fluid cannot drain away because of that blockage, it builds up and causes pressure and pain.

Symptoms

Ear pain related to allergies can come with many different symptoms. These include pressure within the ear and ear infections. In some cases, allergies that affect the ear can lead to decreased hearing.

Pressure

Allergies can also lead to ear congestion. This congestion leads to a backup of mucus in the eustachian tube or middle ear. When that congestion results in a blockage in the ear, the pain develops.

Infection

Ear infections are the most common cause of ear pain. They can occur in the outer, middle, and inner ear. Ear infections are common in children, although they can affect people of all ages.

There are several causes of ear infections. For example, middle ear infections are typically caused by viruses. They can also be a result of allergies due to the congestion and inflammation that occur.

It’s important to know the difference between ear pain caused by allergies and ear pain caused by an infection. An ear infection will come with a variety of other symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor sleep
  • Fever
  • Fluid leaking from the ears that may be white, brown, or yellow
  • Difficulty hearing or hearing loss

If you experience ear pain with allergies but notice that more symptoms have developed, it’s possible that you have an ear infection.

Hearing Impairment

Allergies may also cause decreased hearing. When the allergies begin to improve, your hearing does as well.

This occurs because there is a blockage in the ear. It could be located in the middle ear or ear canal. When the blockage becomes large enough, it blocks out sounds.

Other symptoms that could be present with allergy-driven decreased hearing include a full sensation in the ear, ear drainage, and ear pain.

Treatment

When allergies cause ear pain, you should treat the allergy by taking allergy medications.

If you know what your allergy is, treatment is much easier. If you don’t, you must first figure out what is causing the allergic reaction. There are several different ways to treat allergies, which will then relieve the ear pain.

Decongestants

Since congestion caused by allergies can lead to ear pain, taking a decongestant can help curb the symptoms and reduce the pressure in the ear. Decongestants work by causing the blood vessels that are dilated due to the allergies to constrict, thus relieving the congestion.

Although they don’t address the underlying cause of the allergy, decongestants can provide relief from ear pain by relieving congestion.

Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays

Corticosteroid nasal sprays are sprayed into the nose to help reduce inflammation. They can help with ear pain caused by allergies because they ease nasal blockages that can clog the ears and cause pain.

Treating Ear Infections

Ear infections have many causes, but when allergies are behind the condition, it is because of the blockage they cause in the eustachian tube. The blockage traps bacteria and germs that can multiply and cause an infection.

Allergies that cause inflammation and congestion in the ears impair the function of the eustachian tube. Typically, ear infections that are mild in nature require no treatment at all. In some cases, though, you may need medications or surgery, especially if the ear infections recur.

If your allergies progress to ear infections often, it may be a good idea to discuss allergy medications that can help prevent an ear infection with your healthcare provider. Note, however, that allergy medications will not treat an ear infection that has already developed.

Home Remedies

Ear pain can be an uncomfortable thing to deal with, especially if you have moderate or severe allergies. Some remedies that you can try at home may help keep your ear pain at bay during allergy season.

Things such as chewing on gum can help alleviate pressure. Using a cold pack on the outer ear can help curb the pain, and sleeping with two pillows to prop the head up can be helpful for reducing the ear pain caused by allergies.

Summary

Allergies can create blockages in the ear that result in pressure and pain. They may even lead to ear infections. The best way to treat the ear pain from your allergies is to treat your allergies with medications.

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8 Sources
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