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Hearing Loss During Cold & Flu Season

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Can the cold and flu season affect your hearing?

Head colds and congestion can cause fluid to build up in your sinuses and ears making hearing more difficult during the illness.

The most common type of hearing loss during a cold or the flu is a conductive hearing loss. The fluid in the middle ear makes it hard for the eardrum to vibrate and for sound waves to travel through the ear. Fluid buildup can decrease your ability to hear by 24 decibels making sound muffled or indistinct. This type of hearing loss is usually temporary, and your hearing will return in a time frame of a few days to a few weeks.  It is possible, however, in some cases for it to take months for your hearing to completely return to pre-illness levels.

Sometimes the congestion can lead to infection. This will require antibiotics to address the bacteria and help eliminate the fluid buildup. 

Tinnitus can also begin or increase when you have a head cold or the flu. Tinnitus can sound like thumping, pounding, or a high pitched squeal. 

Although it is rare, longstanding infectious fluid can lead to permanent, sensorineural hearing loss. Viral infections can also play a role in sudden sensorineural hearing loss where inflammation causes the blood supply to the ear to be disrupted. It is important to see a physician within the first 48 hours of experiencing a sudden hearing loss so steroid treatment can be initiated.
 
What to do:
1. Avoid getting sick. Wash hands often. Decrease time spent with people who might be sick.
2. Rest.
3. Consider a decongestant to alleviate some of the fluid buildup.
4. Drink lots of fluids.
5. Stay on top of changes. If things don't improve in 14  - 21 days or you're experiencing pain, make an appointment with your physician to see if there's anything more serious happening.

Your audiologist plays a vital role when changes in hearing occur.  Be sure to communicate your symptoms to them so that the appropriate management can be initiated.   


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