Why do ear infections often occur with a cold or the flu?

Dr looking for ear infection

The common cold and the Flu are responsible for many symptoms, like a cough, sore throat and stuffy nose. However, it is less widely known that ear pain can often accompany the Flu and colds. It is important to be able to distinguish between ear pain because it could be caused by a virus or an infection.

Earache and Colds

When we have a cold or the Flu, the virus attacks the area surrounding the ear, nose and throat, which is why it is common to get earache at the same time. Once the viral infection begins to leave the body, the pain in the ear will diminish too. If it does not seem to be easing, then the pain might be down to an ear infection, rather than a virus and should be looked at by a doctor.

Ear Infections

If your ear has been hurting but has not improved when your cold has gone, then it may be an ear infection. There are some ways to tell that your pain may be down to infection:

  • Your hearing is muffled. It might sound like you have an ear plug in your ear and sounds aren’t as clear as usual
  • You might have a high temperature or fever
  • The pain is more intense
  • You might feel dizzy and light headed
  • Your sleep may be disturbed

What Your Doctor Will Look For

  • ‘Effusion’ – bulging eardrum due to a build up of pus and fluid
  • Murkiness or cloudiness of the ear drum, a healthy ear drum is clear
  • An ear drum which is less flexible than normal
  • Loss of hearing

Dr looking for ear infection

How an Ear Infection is Treated

The only way to clear an ear infection is through antibiotics. Once the course of treatment has been completed, the infection will be gone, but there may be some residual fluid left in the ear, which will affect hearing. Over time, the fluid will clear, but this can take weeks and sometimes months before it’s finally gone.

Why do Ear Infections Often Accompany Colds and Flu?

Infections can get into the middle ear (behind the ear drum) and transfer through to the inner ear. A small channel, known as the Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the upper respiratory tract. Germs from the nose and sinuses are able to climb up the Eutachian tube and into the middle ear, causing germs to multiply and an infection to begin.

Always check with your doctor if you have any of the symptoms of an ear infection, especially if your cold or Flu virus has long gone. Ear infections are treatable and your hearing will be restored.