How The Flu Affects Your Hearing

Taking these precautions should help prevent the flu. Even if you do get sick, there is light at the...

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How The Flu Affects Your Hearing

We hope you’re stocked up on kleenex, as cold and flu season is upon us! 

Cold and flu viruses are more common in the colder months because the cold, dry air can weaken the immune system and make it easier for the viruses to spread. When people are nearby, it's easier for viruses to spread from person to person through the air or by touching contaminated surfaces. In addition, people tend to spend more time indoors during the colder months, which can increase the chances of coming into contact with someone infected with a cold or flu virus.

Getting a flu shot is your best chance of avoiding the flu. Still, it's no guarantee you won't experience an onslaught of symptoms, including fever, aches, muscle, and joint pains, malaise, dry cough, and congestion.

As miserable as these can leave you feeling, there's another lesser-known side effect of the flu that is pretty common: temporary hearing loss.

How the flu affects your hearing

When you're sick, fluid may build up in the middle ear and the Eustachian tube, a thin canal in the back of the throat that connects the middle ear with the nasopharynx. This congestion hampers hearing in two ways: it inhibits sound waves from traveling through the ear. It prevents the Eustachian tube from regulating the air pressure in the middle ear.

The result is muffled sounds that are difficult to hear. Tinnitus, ringing in the ears, and balance issues may accompany the flu. In most cases, flu-induced hearing loss is temporary. Normal hearing should return once your symptoms have run their course.

However, on rare occasions, nerve damage resulting from fluid and pressure buildup can cause permanent hearing loss. If you have recovered from the flu but your hearing has not returned, you must see your audiologist as soon as possible.

Tips to avoid the flu during flu season

To reduce your risk of hearing loss resulting from the flu, your best bet is to avoid getting sick in the first place! This isn't always possible, but there are steps you can take to minimize the odds of contracting the flu. 

  • Get an annual flu shot. An annual vaccine is the best defense against the flu and its dangerous consequences. Remember that a flu shot cannot cause the flu. After immunization, feeling achy or feverish is an entirely normal and natural response that lasts about one or two days.
  • Eat healthily. Eating a healthy diet can help support your immune system and may reduce your risk of getting the flu. For instance, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It may also help stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infection.
  • Keep those hands clean. Having clean hands helps prevent numerous diseases, including the flu. Regularly wash your hands under running water with soap, then completely dry them with a clean towel. You may use an alcohol-based hand rub if you cannot access soap and water. As you might remember from the dark days of the pandemic, it takes approximately as long to thoroughly wash your hands as it does to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
  • Avoid touching your lips, nose, or eyes. The three main entry points for germs into your body are your mouth, nose, and eyes. Even though you have no control over what you breathe in, keeping your hands away from your face may help lower the likelihood of illness. If you must touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, wash your hands first or use a fresh tissue.
  • Stay away from others who are sick. The flu is spreadable. It spreads quickly in crowded places, including on public transportation, nursing homes, schools, and public gatherings. Droplets carrying the virus may travel up to one meter with an infected individual coughing or sneezing, infecting anybody who breathes them in.

If you come down with the flu, take decongestants to help prevent the buildup of mucus and congestion. Your doctor can offer an antiviral prescription, as well. 

Winter can be a difficult time for many people, as the cold weather and shorter days can bring feelings of sadness and isolation. However, it's important to remember that spring will come eventually, bringing with it warmer temperatures, longer days, and fewer respiratory illnesses!

Marni Novick, Audiologist in Los Gatos, CA

Dr. Marni Novick

Founder & Audiologist

Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing health care, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.

About Dr. Novick

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