There are other symptoms of a cold that are less common than the widely recognized runny nose. One type of cold you don’t frequently hear about is the one that moves into one or more ears. While you may generally think of colds as harmless, here’s why this ear-related cold symptom should never be ignored.
What does a cold in the ear feel like?
Your sinuses are directly linked to your ears, so it’s normal to feel some congestion in your ears during a cold. Usually, when you take a decongestant for sinus relief, this blockage will also be alleviated.
But if you feel pain in the ears, this is something you shouldn’t ever disregard, even when you have a cold. If the cold moves into the ear, the eardrum can be infected. When it does, inflammation happens. Inflammation is an immune response that causes fluid to accumulate on the outside of the eardrum. So an individual who is coping with an inflamed eardrum may also experience a slow leaking of fluid from the ear. This leak is most apparent when you sleep on your side because the leak is so gradual.
This is known as conductive hearing loss and impacts how well you hear over the short term. But long term hearing loss can also take place if this inflammation causes the eardrum to burst. Sensorineural hearing loss, which is damage to the nerves of the ear, can then take place.
Waiting could be costly
If you’re having pain in your ear, get your ears examined by us. It’s not uncommon for a primary care physician to wait until the cold goes away because they assume the ear pain will go away with it. A patient may not even think to mention that they are feeling actual ear pain. But if you’re experiencing pain, the infection has progressed to a point where it is most likely doing damage to the ear. It’s paramount that the ear infection be addressed promptly to prevent more damage.
Many individuals who develop ear pain during a cold, get over their cold only to notice that the ear pain lingers. This is often when a person finally decides to visit a hearing specialist. But, a lot of damage is usually done by this time. Irreversible hearing loss is often the result and that’s even more relevant with people who experience ear infections regularly.
Over time, hearing clarity is affected by the small-scale scars and lacerations of the eardrum which are the consequence of ear infections. In a normal, healthy person, the eardrum acts as a boundary between the middle ear and inner ear. If the eardrum gets perforated even once, then the infection that was formerly restricted to the middle ear can now go into the inner ear, where it can harm the irreplaceable tiny nerve cells that you need to hear.
If you waited to get that ear infection addressed, what should you do?
Don’t beat yourself up. A cold with pain in the ear can actually be a more severe cold than most people may think. You should schedule an appointment for a hearing test as soon as possible if you are experiencing hearing loss after a cold.
We can determine whether the hearing loss is short-term (conductive). If this is the situation, you might have an obstruction in your ear that needs to be extracted by a professional. If you have sensorineural, or permanent hearing loss, there are treatment options, including new hearing technology, that we can help you with.
If you’re struggling to hear after a cold, schedule an appointment asap.