Inflammation inside the ear – frequent cause of earaches and periodic hearing loss – is often the result of an allergic reaction in the nose or throat. Airborne allergens – pollen, dust and the like – are the most common offenders, and the problem shows up most frequently in children with hay fever or asthma. But adults can be affected, too.
In one study, eight people with hay fever developed ear trouble after breathing ragweed or timothy grass pollen, common allergens to which they were allergic. (Their hay fever flared up at the same time.) But when they breathed pine pollen – to which none of them were allergic – their ears were fine.
In another study eleven out of twenty-five people with hay fever had ear trouble after exposure to rye grass pollen (Wellcome Trends).
Ear inflammation can also be caused by sinusitis, infections, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps or congenital defects. But, in any of those conditions, allergy can aggravate ear inflammation.
Decongestants and antihistamines can temporarily clear up an allergic ear inflammation. But unless all allergic factors are recognized and avoided, the problem may persist – and eventually cause permanent hearing loss. In fact, uncontrolled ear inflammation is the most common cause of deafness in children.
If ear inflammation is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops. But if you’re allergic to antibiotics, the problem is likely to persist – or get a lot worse. A study in Britain found that out of forty adults who had ear inflammation for longer than a year, fourteen were allergic to one or more antibiotics in the ear drops they were using. Neomycin, framycetin, gentamycin and ciolquinol – four commonly used antibiotics – were to blame. The doctors reporting these cases recommend that people with persistent ear inflammation should be tested for possible allergy to antibiotics (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine).
Medicated ear drops can also cause contact allergy on the outer ear. So can earrings, spectacle stems and perfumes.