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Why Do Your Ears Itch When You Have a Cold or the Flu?

a hand and an ear

Itchy ears can be a sign of a few different conditions, including the common cold. Itchy ears can be annoying and uncomfortable but is a symptom that should be paid attention to. Usually, when part of the seasonal cold, itchy ears are nothing to worry about, although when joined by other symptoms, it can be a sign of something more serious. 

Cold, flu and allergies can all cause itchy ears. By treating the cause, you can ease the annoyance of itchy ears. Itchy ears can sometimes be accompanied by hearing loss. This hearing loss can be temporary, caused by your cold, or can be more serious, caused by the flu virus. Knowing the difference and when to seek medical attention is very important if you are going to protect your hearing. 

Common cold

A cold is one of the most common afflictions people can get. Most adults will experience two or three colds a year. A cold can be caused by many different viruses, and are spread when someone infected sneezes or coughs, leaving droplets containing the virus into the air. 

A cold is not serious but can be annoying. You will usually experience symptoms over a few days, including:

  • A runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • A sore throat
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches

Your ears can be affected by a cold, thanks to congestion that makes the ears feel thick, congested and itchy. 

Treatment

A mild cold or allergy treatments can be treated at home with pain relief, decongestants, and antihistamines that can be bought over the counter without a prescription. To relieve itchy ears, try an oral or cream-based antihistamine, such as fexofenadine, diphenhydramine or loratadine. Oral antihistamines are more common, but the same brands often offer topical formulas as well. Ask your pharmacists. 

If your symptoms are severe or lingering, you should consider calling your doctor. 

There is no cure for the common cold, but you can relieve some of your symptoms. Take an over the counter pain reliever, and try decongestant pills or nasal sprays. Combination cold medicines also work well. Most colds will clear up on their own within seven to ten days. If you have symptoms for more than two weeks or get worse instead of better, see your doctor. 

Why do my ears itch? 

The outer ear is the outside part of your ear and ear canal. When you are unwell, the outer ear can become swollen or red. Infection usually occurs in the middle ear, where your Eustachian tube is. This part of the ear acts as a pressure release valve. When this becomes clogged with mucus, pressure builds up, causing hearing difficulty and itchiness in the ear. The inner ear is filled with fluid. This can also become infected, which leads to dizziness and ringing in the ear, or potentially a loss of balance. 

Colds and allergies are the most likely to cause an infection of the middle ear. After a few days of cold symptoms like a stuffy nose, the lining of the middle ear becomes irritated. This irritation then blocks the Eustachian tube, making the ears itchy, full, or congested. You might experience a popping of the ears or hearing loss, which resolves itself when the cold has passed. 

The flu can also cause similar symptoms in the ears, which tend to resolve themselves. However, the flu can also cause sensorineural hearing loss, which is more serious. This is when the nerves in the inner ear that transmits sound signals to the brain become damaged. This happens when the flu virus attacks the inner ear. This hearing loss can be permanent if not spotted and treated very quickly. It can be difficult to diagnose, so if you have the flu and experience any hearing loss, seek the advice of your health care professional immediately to protect your hearing.

If you are concerned about itchy ears caused by a cold or the flu, you can speak to your doctor or to an ENT specialist. They can advise you on the cause of your ear problems and identify the seriousness of the problem. While itchy ears are usually nothing to worry about, all symptoms in the ear should be monitored carefully, in case it develops into something more serious, so you can best protect your very precious hearing. 

If you want to find out more about ear, nose, and throat conditions, including itchy ears or the hearing loss caused by colds and flu, then call Golla ENT on 412-963-1537, for advice, diagnosis and treatment.