Allergies and Your HEaring

So, it may not seem a natural connection, but your allergies and your hearing aren’t totally unrelated.

The fact is, though we usually take it for granted, our hearing requires an incredibly complicated system to function at a very high level — day in and day out. And yes, allergies can throw sand in the gears.

Allergies usually mean that some part of your body swells. Even if you’re not overly allergic to bees, you’ll have swelling around the sting as the body reacts (and if you have a severe allergic reaction minor swelling is the least of your problems).

With many allergic reactions, there will also be congestion in your chest and nasal cavity. This kind of “clogging up the works” can directly influence your hearing, since this can change the fluid pressure in your inner ear. Your eardrum is calibrated to “normal” pressure and allergy-induced changes will affect the entire system.

Likewise, there are tubes in your middle ear that allow drainage to occur (part of keeping everything calibrated). If those get clogged with fluids produced by an allergic reaction, then things get backed up in the ear canal.

Some allergies will also induce your body to produce more earwax. This just clogs up your ear canal directly. Nothing subtle about that.

Allergic skin reactions can wreak havoc as well, since both your inner and outer ear are, well, covered in skin. If there’s severe swelling in the ear canal the passage is narrowed, which will block sound waves and once again throw off the calibration of the system.

Some things to be aware of if you’re having allergy issues include the urge to scratch inside your ear, bouts of dizziness, and any ringing in your ear. These are all signs that something is amiss.

If there’s a sudden hearing loss, you’ll probably want to have things checked out by a professional.

Sobering Research On Hearing Loss and Dementia

Although the specific reasons are not yet clear, what is observable is that there is a link of some kind between untreated hearing loss and the onset of dementia.

Several long-term studies — including two prominent ones affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine — have been carried out over the last decade. They have tracked the cognitive abilities of older people with varying levels of hearing capabilities. There appears to be a clear correlation between hearing loss issues coinciding with an erosion of cognitive health.

Some theories include: limited audiological input robs the brain of needed activity — as if the exercise routine of the brain had been severely reduced — and results in brain tissue loss; that the effort the brain must endure in deciphering garbled sounds over a number of years overwhelms brain function; or that there is some yet undiscovered common pathology that leads to both hearing loss and dementia.

Yet another theory is that hearing loss leads to social isolation, since communicating with other people becomes harder and harder. It has already been established that loneliness is a risk factor for developing cognitive disorders.

This last theory makes it clear that early discovery and intervention regarding hearing loss is vital. Treatments — such as hearing aids — may very well lessen whatever link there is between hearing loss and dementia. It’s very possible that by continuing more “normal” sound input to the brain, hearing aids prevent the deterioration of brain function.

These findings and theories point in one clear direction: that hearing should be routinely tested — starting in middle age as part of annual physical checkups — and issues treated as quickly as possible. It’s clear that hearing loss does the brain no good.