Many people experience tinnitus during or after they have had a cold or the flu. This is actually fairly common, though many people don’t report their symptoms to a doctor. Tinnitus after a cold or the flu is usually temporary and will go away as the body continues to heal; resting is an effective tinnitus cure in this situation. If the tinnitus becomes persistent, however, you should consider seeking medical attention.
Lasting tinnitus following a cold or flu can be caused by an infection that damaged some part of the ear that is important for hearing. If there is still an infection present, more damage can be done. It is important to minimize infection related damage because in the long-term it can cause hearing loss and tinnitus after you have recovered from the cold or flu will be much worse.
Ear infections are bad news for our hearing organ, known as the “Organ of Corti”. The viruses that cause the cold and flu can make us susceptible to infections, as well. This is especially true if it is a head cold that involved a lot of sinus congestion. If infection makes its way to the ears, it can cause swelling. Swelling can permanently damage the ear drum, the middle ear components, and the hairs and receptor cells we use to hear sounds normally. When these cells become damaged or die, they send signals to the brain.
In turn, the brain recognizes that each cell is associated with a specific frequency of sound. Since the cell sends signals out when it is damaged or dying, the brain only knows that the signal was sent and, just like that, we hear a sound that isn’t really there.
Tinnitus after a cold or the flu isn’t always so serious, however. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of congestion that will ease as our head continues to clear out the grime of a head cold or flu.
Temporary Tinnitus after Cold and Flu
Although the hearing system is somewhat complex, tinnitus after a cold or flu makes a lot of sense when one understands how the ears and sinuses are connected. If you have ever plugged your nose and blown (with mouth closed), you have likely experienced a “popping” noise in your ears. That’s because the air pressure, having nowhere else to go, goes back into the sinus system to seek an alternative exit. One of the places the air looks to escape is the Eustachian tube – and, barring an infection, this is the part of the head that makes it possible to experience tinnitus when we have had a cold or the flu.
Normally, the Eustachian tube only opens on occasion to regulate the pressure in our ears. We might hear a popping noise when that happens. People who fly in airplanes experience this adjustment when they reach a certain altitude. Divers do as well, as they plunge to deeper waters and the pressure around them begins to increase. (This is also what makes it impossible for a diver to go below a certain depth without being contained in a certain type of helmet or vessel.)
However, tinnitus after a head cold or flu is caused when the Eustachian tube becomes congested. The congestion can prevent air from the outside of the body from reaching the middle ear to equalize this pressure. Alternatively, when sinuses drain they can create a vacuum situation where the air in the middle ear gets sucked out, causing the ear drum to become conclave. When tinnitus occurs with a head cold or flu, both can occur resulting in the ear drum being push back and forth. Since the eardrum is connected to the Organ of Corti, we “hear” a vibration that didn’t really come from a sound wave. Alternatively, fluid can enter the middle ear and cause similar sounds to be heard.
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