Now that cold and flu season is upon us, it’s time to prepare for the possibility of an extended bout of illness. Getting a flu shot is your best chance of avoiding the flu, but it’s no guarantee you won’t experience an onslaught of symptoms that includes fever, aches and pains in the muscles and joints, 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 fairly common: temporary
When you’re sick, fluid may build up in the middle ear and 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 and prevents the Eustachian tube from regulating air pressure in the middle ear. The result is muffled sounds that are difficult to hear. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, and balance issues may also 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, it’s crucial you see your audiologist as soon as possible.
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. These include:
- Get an annual flu shot. While not 100 percent effective, an influenza vaccine helps protect against infection from the flu strain that research indicates will be most common in any given year.
- Stick to a well-rounded, healthy diet and help boost your immune system by taking plenty of Vitamin C.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, especially after coming into contact with others or visiting public facilities.
- Stay away from others who are sick to avoid exposure to germs and viruses.
- If you do come down with the flu, take decongestants to help prevent the buildup of mucus and congestion. Your doctor might be able to offer an antiviral prescription, as well.
Taking these precautions should help prevent the flu. Even if you do get sick, there is light at the end of the tunnel: summer, the traditional end of cold and flu season, is right around the corner!