Allergies and Tinnitus

Nov, 22, 2023

Despite the warmer weather and blooming flowers, spring isn’t good news for everyone. For those with allergies, the new season can bring a runny nose, itchy eyes and sore throat with it. Not to mention, hay fever can also impact your hearing, with congestion and other symptoms commonly linked to tinnitus.

Inflammation and blockages in the throat and nose due to allergies can also extend to blockages within the inner ear. Below, we discuss the link between allergies and tinnitus, including how to manage symptoms and when to seek help.

What is hay fever?

Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever refers to cold-like symptoms caused by an allergic response to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust and pet dander. According to the ASCIA, hay fever is a fairly common allergy condition, affecting around 18% of people (children and adults) in Australia and New Zealand.

Common symptoms associated with hay fever include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes
  • Itchy or sore throat.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to the sensation of hearing a ringing or buzzing in the ears despite no external source of sound. Surveys estimate that 10-20% of adults live with it, with some degree of hearing loss commonly associated.

However, tinnitus is often temporary, particularly when triggered by short-term causes such as loud music at concerts or a period of hay fever. Though a high-pitched “ringing in the ears” is the most common characteristic of tinnitus, some people hear hissing, whooshing, roaring, whistling, buzzing or clicking.

Allergies and tinnitus: Is there a connection?

There are several studies that have demonstrated a link between allergies and tinnitus, specifically with patients experiencing hay fever.  One study found that those prone to hay fever were more likely to experience an Eustachian tube obstruction, whereby the tiny tubes that run between the middle ears and upper throat get blocked with mucus. Increased pressure and congestion affects how sound travels through the middle ear, which can lead to difficulties in hearing.  In cohort studies, children with hay fever were also shown to experience worsened Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) during allergen seasons or pollen tests.

So, does hay fever cause tinnitus? Evidence supports that hay fever and tinnitus are connected, with allergies proven to worsen hearing conditions. Furthermore, some medications used to treat allergies, such as aspirin and other NSAIDs, may cause tinnitus as a possible side effect.

If you’re concerned that your hay fever may be causing tinnitus or hearing problems, seek help from a health professional.

Managing hay fever and tinnitus

Anyone who’s ever had a cold can relate to some of the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever. And when combined with tinnitus symptoms, finding solutions that can provide relief from both is key.

Practical ways to prevent hay fever and tinnitus:

  • Utilise air-conditioning — If your hay fever triggers include pollen and other environmental factors, avoid opening your windows in the car and home, and utilise recirculated air instead.
  • Consider a face mask when outdoors — Face masks have been shown to reduce nasal and ocular hay fever symptoms in individuals with pollen allergy.
  • Avoid exposure to loud music or sounds — Loud noises can further trigger tinnitus by damaging the inner ear.
  • Get enough sleep — Sleep deprivation can make symptoms of hay fever and tinnitus worse. Make sure to rest and look after yourself!

Treatment options for hay fever and tinnitus:

  • Antihistamines — Medications such as chlorpheniramine, meclizine and terfenadine can help to dry out your sinuses and potentially ease tinnitus symptoms.
  • Nasal spray — Over-the-counter decongestants such as nasal sprays can also help ease inflammation and unblock the passageways between the throat and ears.
  • Sound therapy — External noises such as white noise and low-level music can help to mask and fade tinnitus and are often utilised for tinnitus treatment.

When to seek further help

Though allergies and tinnitus can both present short-term symptoms, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional if:

  • You experience hay fever and tinnitus symptoms several times a year
  • Your hay fever and tinnitus symptoms last for more than a few days
  • Antihistamines, nasal sprays and other medications don’t help your symptoms or cause side effects
  • You’re having trouble breathing or have chronic congestion, wheezing or chest tightness.

A proper diagnosis to establish the link between your allergies and tinnitus will help to inform a treatment plan that targets your specific condition.

Conclusion

As allergies may contribute to the development of tinnitus, changes to your hearing during allergy seasons shouldn’t be ignored, especially since some medications used to treat allergies can also contribute to symptoms.

Be sure to mention your tinnitus symptoms when speaking to your health professional regarding hay fever or allergies to ensure any discomfort isn’t exacerbated.

Sources

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