Although many people think of ear pain as a childhood problem, adults often experience ear pain, too. Ear pain can be attributed to a number of causes from sinus congestion to excessive earwax to infection. And, yes, ear pain can be caused by allergens.
Some people are hypersensitive to certain foreign substances, such as animal dander and pollen. That hypersensitivity triggers an allergic reaction in the body involving certain cells in the immune system that release histamine.
Histamine release can cause itching, increased mucus production, and swelling.
While earaches are far from being the most common symptom of seasonal allergies, the membrane lining of the eustachian tube can react to an allergen such as pollen by becoming inflamed.
This inflammation can lead to an imbalance in pressure in the ear with fluid buildup, which can cause a feeling of a blocked ear or an earache.
If you have a seasonal allergy, you might have a greater risk of an ear infection. When the pollen counts are high, it’s likely that allergic reactions will cause inflammation and congestion. This can result in a number of scenarios including:
The release of histamines can cause inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the nasal cavities and ears. This inflammation can result in a blockage in the ears that prevents fluid or mucus from draining away, setting the stage for infection and leading to ear pain from the pressure building up inside the ears.
Your middle ear is filled with fluid. If this fluid gets infected, it can build up and become pressurized causing pain, swelling, and redness of the eardrum (tympanic membrane). This ear infection is referred to in the medical community as otitis media.
Additional symptoms can include ringing in the ears and dizziness. It may even cause loss of balance. In severe cases, the eardrum might rupture, and pus will leak from the ear.
Short-term hearing loss can also result from an allergic reaction causing inflammation of your eustachian tubes. This conductive hearing loss will typically self-resolve when the allergies abate.
Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) allergy-relieving medications can address a variety of allergy symptoms, including allergic reactions that affect the ear. Readily available OTC antihistamines include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- levocetirizine (Xyzal)
- loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
To additionally reduce the feeling of fullness in your ear, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about an antihistamine that includes a decongestant such as:
- cetirizine plus pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D)
- fexofenadine plus pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
- loratadine plus pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D)
To address stuffiness, runny nose, and sneezing, your doctor might recommend or prescribe a corticosteroid nasal spray such as:
- budesonide (Rhinocort)
- fluticasone furoate (Veramyst)
- fluticasone propionate (Flonase)
- mometasone (Nasonex)
- triamcinolone (Nasacort)
If you’ve developed an ear infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic.
There are steps you can take at home to manage ear discomfort:
- To reduce pressure in the middle ear, rest in an upright position as opposed to lying down.
- To reduce pain, put a cold pack on your outer ear for 20 minutes.
- To ease pressure and pain, try chewing gum.
- To ease pain, consider OTC pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naproxen (Aleve)
Although home care can be effective, if the pain or pressure in your ear doesn’t go away or it becomes increasingly painful, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Although ear pain is not the most common symptom of seasonal allergies, allergies can cause ear pain, either directly or by creating an environment that could lead to ear discomfort and infection.
You can take some steps on your own to deal with the symptoms, but if ear pain doesn’t go away or worsens, call your doctor. If you have an ear infection, you might need prescription antibiotics.