Sinus infections (or sinusitis) usually happen if your sinuses are congested or swollen due to things like allergies or a cold. It can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (longer-term), and can sometimes result in short- or even long-term hearing loss.

What is a sinus infection?

Your sinuses are ‘air gaps’ within your skull that sit behind your cheekbones and forehead, connected to your airway via your nose. Sinus infections (or sinusitis) can be either bacterial or viral, with both types causing similar symptoms. The more long-term or severe the infection is, the more likely it is that chronic sinusitis will develop, which can impact your hearing.

How can sinus infections spread to the ear?

Your airways and sinuses form complex pathways, one of which is known as the Eustachian tube. This small passageway connects your middle ear, nose and sinuses. Its function is to equalise pressure in your ear — but this can leave you open to infections in the sinuses which could eventually affect the tube and ear.

Blocked ears and sinus infections

Blocked ears can occur for different reasons. One cause is when an infection produces a lot of mucus and fluid, the Eustachian tube can become blocked, known as Eeustachian tube dysfunction.

Why can sinus infections lead to ear congestion?

Ear congestion is another name for Eustachian tube blockage. The main symptoms of ear congestion include a feeling of pressure or fullness in the affected ear or ear pain. You may also experience dampened noises and difficulty in hearing. Hearing loss is rarely the first symptom of sinus infection and ear congestion. 

These symptoms of ear congestion are not necessarily caused by a sinus infection. Other causes include simple infections like the common cold or allergic reactions such as hay fever.

Can sinus infections lead to hearing loss?

Hearing loss from a sinus infection is a direct result of fluid or mucus flooding and blocking the Eustachian tube. People often describe hearing loss from a sinus infection as sounding like being underwater or, in some cases, just like having earplugs in.

While hearing loss isn’t the first or main symptom of a sinus infection, these types of infections can affect your hearing in various ways. In most cases, this won’t be a severe hearing loss and it will get better once the sinus infection has cleared — but there is a possibility that frequent, severe sinus infections can permanently affect your hearing health.

If you’re experiencing this type of hearing loss you should see a medical professional as it could mean that any pre-existing infection has become worse. If you’re not sure if you have hearing loss, you can test your hearing free online.

How do I prevent sinus infections from spreading to my ear?

There isn’t any special solution to stop an infection from reaching your ear — the best thing to do is to see your GP for a proper investigation and treatment. If you have repeat, long term sinus infections then your risk of developing associated hearing loss will increase.

Permanent hearing damage is rare, but letting an infection develop and worsen over time could lead to damage to structures in your inner ear. There are also known cases of sudden sensorineural hearing loss as a result of chronic sinusitis.1 This is why regularly having your hearing reviewed is so important.

If I keep getting sinus infections, how can I protect my ears?

Good hygiene and self-care are always the first steps in protecting yourself. Make sure to say well hydrated to keep your mucous membranes in your sinuses healthy and resistant to irritation.

If you have significant allergies, try to avoid triggers such as dust, animal fur or trees that can cause hay fever or an allergic response. Avoiding other irritants such as cigarette smoke can help reduce the risk of sinusitis.

Finally, if you do suffer from chronic or recurrent sinusitis despite taking appropriate care, speak to one of our audiologists in-store. They will be able to assess your hearing and recommend hearing aids if required or signpost you to further services.

To learn more about the different conditions that can impact your ear health, visit our hub.

References

  1. Hung SH, Lin HC, Kao LT, Wu CS, Chung SD. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is associated with chronic rhinosinusitis: population-based study. J Laryngol Otol. 2016;130(6):521-525. doi:10.1017/S0022215116000906

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