The average person in the United States has likely experienced allergies to some degree, whether their own or those of a loved one. But what causes allergies? There’s a range of different sources for allergies. They can come from food, insects, your environment or the particles in indoor air.
Allergies can wreak havoc on your body. To combat allergens that enter, the human body needs to jump into action. Histamine, the chemical that’s produced while your antibodies attack the allergen source, can spur a variety of bodily reactions. People can develop a histamine intolerance when the body has high levels of it, and that intolerance can manifest itself in hives, fatigue, digestive problems, nasal congestion, headaches and other physiological reactions.
You may experience itchy skin, narrowing airways and general discomfort or pain. Asthma, sneezing, runny nose and swollen or sensitive eyes are the most common signs of an allergic reaction, but other symptoms include low blood pressure, increased heart rate and blood vessel expansion.
Excess mucus and nasal congestion from allergic reactions can irritate your throat and ears. Allergic reactions also lead to swollen tissue and congestion—both of which can cause ear infections. With that congestion, swelling and extra mucus, you may notice your ears will become itchy, uncomfortable or even painful—all symptoms of infection. So the answer to “Can allergies cause ear infections?” is a resounding “yes”.
The eustachian tube—the tube going from your middle ear to the back of your throat—can get blocked due to congestion and inflammation and therefore fill with mucus, germs and bacteria. The same thing happens no matter what kind of allergy you have. If left to fester, that buildup will lead to an infection. Since their eustachian tube is smaller, young children are especially prone to this issue.
For adults, middle ear infection symptoms include:
If your child has an ear infection, they may have:
You also may notice them pulling or rubbing their ears, getting more irritated or being unresponsive.
Before pursuing treatment for your allergy-related ear pain, find out what’s causing these allergic reactions. You can do so by visiting a doctor and undergoing an allergy test.
The skin allergy test involves taking tiny amounts of an allergen and inserting it into the skin to see how it reacts. Or, for those deemed unable to do a skin test, doctors can test blood to see if you have increased amounts of immunoglobulin E—the antibody that attacks allergens and harmful substances. A doctor can determine which test works best for you based on your medical history.
Over-the-counter allergy medications can alleviate symptoms that interfere with your hearing. This kind of medication reduces histamine and the swelling it causes. An antihistamine will relieve sneezing, itching, hives and runny noses. You can find nasal sprays, tablets, pills or liquid versions of antihistamines. Before taking any OTC medications, consult with a doctor or pharmacist if you are currently taking any additional medications.
Decongestants work a bit differently than antihistamines. While antihistamines help dry up a runny nose, decongestants open up a congested, stuffy nose. They are available over the counter in spray, tablet or capsule form.
There’s also a combination of the two. A combined antihistamine/decongestant is ideal for cold-like symptoms and hay fever, a common condition caused by an allergy to pollen or other environmental allergens. While there are some possible combination medications available over the counter, doctors often must give a prescription with instructions regarding dosage for your specific medical needs.
If medications like antihistamines, decongestants or a combination of the two don’t resolve your ear pain, injected drugs can offer a long-term solution. These shots are given regularly over three to five years. Allergy shots are part of immunotherapy, which takes small doses of the allergen and repeatedly introduces it to your body. The immune system then starts to build a tolerance to that introduced allergen, gradually minimizing your allergy symptoms.
Allergy shots serve as a long-term solution for unavoidable allergies or symptoms not managed by other medications, like antihistamines or decongestants. They can also be a good solution for people who take regular prescriptions and medication that other allergy medications would affect or interfere with.
If your earache and ear pain do not resolve along with the rest of your allergy symptoms, visit the doctor and check for an ear infection.
For drug-free alternatives to over-the-counter medication and allergy shots, try these home remedies for allergy ear pain:
And once you determine the source of your allergies, try to minimize their effects by eliminating allergens from your home and workplace, wearing a mask during allergy season, drinking plenty of water and running an air purifier.
Most ear pain should resolve within two or three days. Consult your doctor about any ear pain that does not improve in 24 to 48 hours, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms such as blood or pus in the ear, high fever, headache, dizziness, swelling or intensified ear pain.