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Is your cold causing ear pain?
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Is your cold causing ear pain?

Breaking down why cold causes ear pain. Know the expert-recommended ways to prevent and manage it
ear pain due to cold, ear pain with cold, why ear pain in cold, cold in ear, earache
Representative image | Shutterstock

As winter sets in and temperatures drop, many of us find ourselves grappling with various cold-related ailments. A common cold, commonly known as a viral infection, can bring symptoms, like a runny nose, sore throat, and cough. One commonly overlooked yet bothersome issue is ear pain due to cold. This pain can be dull, sharp, or burning, making it difficult to sleep, concentrate, or  enjoy one’s day. 

Why ear pain in cold? 

To comprehend why cold can lead to ear pain, it is crucial to understand the ear’s complex anatomy. The ear is divided into three parts— the outer, middle, and inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the throat by the eustachian tube. 

“The eustachian tube plays a crucial role in ear health. This small tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, allowing for air circulation and pressure equalization. When you have a cold, the virus can inflame the eustachian tube, causing it to swell and become blocked,” says Dr Nikhat Parveen, an ENT consultant based in Kolkata. 

This blockage prevents air from entering the middle ear, creating a pressure imbalance. This pressure difference is what leads to the uncomfortable feeling of ear pain. “Additionally, mucus and fluid from the nose can sometimes back up into the eustachian tube, further exacerbating the blockage and pain,” Dr Parveen adds. 

Read more: Are ear infections contagious? 

Recognising the symptoms 

Dr Udyat Bhatnagar, an ENT consultant based in Moradabad says that while you experience earache as a symptom, a cold can also cause other symptoms in the ear, including: 

  • Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear 
  • Dizziness 
  • Muffled hearing 
  • Drainage from the ear 
  • Fever (in some cases) 

It is important to note that while earache due to a cold is usually mild and resolves on its own within a few days, it is crucial to seek medical attention if you experience any of the following: 

  • Severe ear pain 
  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C) 
  • Drainage from the ear that is pus-like or blood 
  • Hearing loss 
  • Neck stiffness 
  • Severe headache 

Diagnosis 

While in most cases, individuals experiencing ear pain due to cold is self-remitting. Dr Parveen says one should never overlook it. She recommends seeking out to doctor for a proper diagnosing. The doctor may take certain steps to establish the cause and suggest further treatment to manage it.  

  • Clinical assessment: A healthcare professional will conduct a thorough examination, assessing symptoms, medical history, and potential risk factors. 
  • Otoscopic examination: The doctor may use an otoscope to examine the ear canal, eardrum, and surrounding structures for signs of inflammation, infection, or other abnormalities. 
  • Audiometric testing: Audiometric tests may be performed to assess hearing function and identify any hearing loss associated with ear pain. 

Management  

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to manage ear pain caused by a cold, say  Dr Parveen and Bhatnagar. Some of the ways include: 

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: OTC medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help reduce inflammation and pain. 
  • Decongestants: Decongestants can help reduce swelling and congestion in the eustachian tubes. This indirectly helps alleviate ear pain. 
  • Warm compresses: Applying a warm compress to the affected ear can help relieve pain and promote blood flow. 
  • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water can help loosen mucus and open up the eustachian tubes. 
  • Gargling with salt water: Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat and reduce inflammation in the back of the nose, which can indirectly help with ear pain. 
  • Rest:  It is the most powerful way to manage cold and ear pain. Getting plenty of rest is essential to let your body recover from the cold and heal the inflamed tissues. 

Additional tips for prevention 

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent ear pain entirely, several ways can help reduce the risk: 

  • Wash your hands frequently. This can help prevent the spread of germs that can cause colds. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. This can help boost your immune system and make you less susceptible to infections. 
  • Use a humidifier. This can help add moisture to the air, which can help soothe irritated mucus membranes. 
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke. Smoking can irritate the eustachian tubes and make them more prone to inflammation. 

Conclusion 

Understanding the complexities of ear pain in colds enables individuals to adopt preventive measures and seek timely medical attention. With a combination of protective practices, hygiene awareness, and effective management strategies, one can navigate cold-associated ear pain with greater ease. If ear pain persists or worsens, consulting a healthcare professional ensures a thorough assessment and appropriate intervention. 

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