Why You Should Never Ignore Hearing Loss After a Cold
Colds and influenza affect your ears, nose and throat, and it is not uncommon for people to suffer minor hearing loss during and after a cold. Often, this symptom is temporary and quite innocuous, but it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying problem.
If you suffer hearing impairment after a cold, and it lasts for more than a couple of days, it is important that you seek professional medical advice, since there could be many reasons for the problem.
Why Colds Can Impair Your Hearing
Your ears, nose and throat are closely linked, and if you get an infection in that area it can make your hearing feel a little muffled. The ears are a complex system, and swelling in that area can interfere with the system that picks up vibrations and converts them into signals which travel along nerves and into the brain.
For the most part, this cold or flu related hearing impairment is temporary, and it will pass when the other symptoms pass. However, if it persists for more than a couple of days, it is important to speak to a doctor about it. In addition, if the impairment is severe, rather than simply making sounds seem a little muffled, then it is particularly important to seek a doctor’s advice.
What Else Can Hearing Loss Mean?
Severe or persistent hearing loss could be a sign of “sensorineural hearing loss”. This means that the infection which has been causing your other cold or flu like symptoms has infected the ear, causing swelling around the nerve which transmits the signals created by the ear. This swelling temporarily compresses the nerve, causing hearing loss. If that hearing loss is left untreated, it could be permanent.
What separates sensorineural hearing loss from the usual hearing loss associated with a cold is that with sensorineural hearing loss, instead of simply feeling muffled or blocked up for a while, you suffer serious hearing loss in one or both ears, and the loss appears suddenly.
While the nerves are compressed, they are quite literally dying off, and if the condition persists for too long it can be irreversible. Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is often mistaken for conductive hearing loss – a temporary and easily treatable form of hearing loss which occurs when the ear canal is blocked by ear wax, or there is a temporary build up of fluid caused by an infection.
Can Sensorineural Hearing Loss Be Treated?
The good news is that if sensorineural hearing loss is identified quickly, it can be treated quite easily. A prescription of steroids to bring down the inflammation will relieve the pressure on the nerves and allow them to repair themselves.
The longer the condition is allowed to go untreated, the less likely it is that the nerves will respond to treatment. One high profile example of a person who suffered from sensorineural hearing loss is the composer Michael Berkley. He experienced hearing difficulties after coming down with a cold, but the cause of that hearing loss was misdiagnosed by two doctors. It was not until John Graham, a surgeon at London’s Royal national Throat, Nose and Ear hospital, saw a piece that Berkley had written about the difficulties of composing with a “blocked ear” that the cause of his problems were identified. Graham says that a GP could have successfully diagnosed the problem with a simple “tuning fork” test, but that most trainee doctors spend less than two weeks in the ENT department as a part of their training, so awareness of the test is poor.
By the time Graham had contacted Berkley, he had been suffering from hearing difficulties for two months, and it was too late for steroids to help him. Berkley faced a long struggle to find a good hearing aid that would allow him to continue to work with music, and an even longer struggle to get accustomed to listening with that hearing aid. He still struggles in crowded spaces, and finds it difficult to converse with people who are not looking directly at him. Those difficulties could have been prevented with prompt diagnosis.
When to See a Doctor
Hearing loss is a serious matter. Call your doctor immediately if you experience sudden and severe hearing loss without explanation, or if you experience hearing loss after travelling on an airplane or taking medication.
If you have hearing loss that you think is being caused by earwax, but using ear drops offers no relief, speak to a doctor. In addition, if you think that your hearing is not as sensitive as it used to be, and that you might need a hearing aid, do not simply purchase one out of a catalogue. Talk to a doctor first.
If you experience hearing loss after a head injury, feel dizzy, or have other symptoms such as slurred speech, numbness, facial drooping or impaired vision, call an ambulance or get someone to take you to an emergency room immediately so that the possibility of a more serious underlying issue such as a stroke can be ruled out.
If you are a parent, and you think that your child has hearing difficulties, take them to a doctor as soon as possible. Young children often struggle to communicate their symptoms when they are feeling unwell, and it is important that they get their hearing tested to prevent lasting damage.
Permanent hearing loss as a result of a cold r the flu is relatively rare, but it is a possibility that it is important to be aware of. Adapting to poor hearing as an adult can be quite difficult. Sometimes the brain will successfully reprogram itself to process the auditory signals sent from a hearing aid and offer something similar to the hearing that the patient grew up with, but this is a slow process and it is not always successful. When it comes to hearing loss, there is a lot of truth to the old adage about prevention being better than cure.