Some allergies may lead to the development of ear pain. Many cause congestion or irritation in the nose and sinuses, which connect to the ears. This can cause increased pressure or fluid buildup in the ears.
In these cases, people can usually treat ear pain and infections by addressing their allergies.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between allergies, ear pain, and ear infections, as well as some diagnosis and treatment options.
Nasal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, can sometimes give rise to ear pain. Allergies create congestion in the sinuses and ear canals, which can lead to pain and discomfort in the ear.
Allergies cause the body to release chemicals, such as histamine, that can irritate the nose, eyes, and throat. As a reaction to this irritation, the sinuses can become swollen and fluid can build up. This can, in turn, affect the ear canals and cause pain.
Specifically, allergies can cause ear pain by:
- causing fluid to build up behind the ear drum
- leading to the development of an ear infection
- blocking the eustachian tube and causing an increase in pressure
Allergies can also lead to the development of ear infections. People who have seasonal or year long allergies are more likely to experience ear infections than those without.
Environmental allergies can irritate the eustachian tube, which runs from the middle ear to the throat. The eustachian tube helps balance pressure between the outer and inner ear.
An allergy can cause swelling around the eustachian tube, which can prevent fluid from draining away from the middle ear.
If this fluid collects behind the ear drum, it increases the risk of bacteria and viruses growing in the fluid. These bacteria and viruses can cause an ear infection in the middle ear.
Symptoms of a middle ear infection can appear suddenly and may include:
- redness of the eardrum
- drainage from the ear
- a feeling of fullness in the middle ear
- ear pain in one or both ears
- reduced hearing
- a sore throat
- popping or crackling sounds in the ears
- affected balance (in rare cases)
If a person experiences ear pain as a result of an allergy, treating the allergy can help provide relief from the pain.
The first step in treating ear pain from allergies is finding out which allergens are causing the pain. An allergist or immunologist can help a person find their triggers.
Once a person knows which allergens are affecting them, they can try to take steps to avoid them. For example, if a person is allergic to dust mites, ensuring that living spaces are clean and well ventilated can help reduce exposure to this allergen.
If a person is allergic to pollen, they may have to limit the time they spend outdoors when the pollen count is especially high.
Some other treatment options include:
Allergy shots, or allergen immunotherapy, can help provide longer term relief. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergy shots are an effective and proven method of treating environmental allergies.
Allergy shots contain a very small amount of the allergen that the person is allergic to. It will be just enough to trigger the immune system, but not enough to cause a severe allergic reaction. In this way, the body becomes desensitized to the allergen.
An alternative to allergy shots are allergy tablets, which work in a similar way. People take a daily tablet containing a small amount of the allergen.
A doctor may prescribe certain medications to treat allergies. These may include:
- nasal corticosteroid sprays
- nasal antihistamine sprays
- antihistamine tablets
- decongestant tablets
Taking any allergy medication exactly as the doctor prescribes can help relieve uncomfortable symptoms, including ear pain.
People with seasonal allergies, such as hay fever, may need to start taking allergy medications before coming into contact with the allergens. This is because allergy medication prevents the release of the chemicals that cause allergic reactions, such as histamine.
Treating an ear infection
If a person has an ear infection from an allergy, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relief medication may also help relieve symptoms.
Allergists and immunologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating allergies. To find out which allergies a person may have, they will take a full medical history and carry out allergy tests.
An allergist will often use a skin prick test. This involves pricking the skin with a tiny amount of an allergen. Within 15 minutes, the skin will either remain as it was or show signs of a small reaction. If the person is allergic to the applied allergen, the skin will swell or itch slightly.
In some cases, when this test is not suitable due to the presence of a skin condition or certain medications, the doctor may perform a blood test instead.
It is best for a person experiencing any ear pain to see a doctor. They will be able to confirm if an allergy or infection is causing the ear pain. They will also be able to rule out other potential causes.
If the doctor believes that allergies are causing the ear pain, they may refer the person to an allergist or immunologist for a thorough diagnosis.
If a person has symptoms of an ear infection that do not improve over 48–72 hours, they should see their doctor.
Nasal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, can cause ear pain. Allergens trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals in the body.
These chemicals cause irritation in the nose and sinuses, which can affect the ear and cause ear pain. In some cases, swelling and a buildup of fluid can also cause ear infections.
A person can see their doctor or allergist for a diagnosis and to find out if their allergies are the cause of their ear pain. Once a person knows which allergens may trigger a reaction, they can take steps to avoid or reduce their exposure to them.
Certain medications — including antihistamines, decongestants, and allergy shots — can help relieve the symptoms. Treating allergies should help resolve any related ear pain.
If a person has an ear infection, they may need antibiotics.