Sinusitus and hearing loss
April 29, 2014 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Went to the hospital on doctor's orders, they dramatically improved all my symptoms except the scariest one.

Hey gang,

So I went to the doctor because what I self-diagnosed as a bad head cold and sinus infection got completely out of addition to constant huge buildups of mucus, each day over 4 days my hearing would be more impaired than the last.

The doctor (an urgent-care physician since I will be without insurance 'til July) said I had an acute upper respiratory infection, conjunctivitis (my eyes started secreting pus heavily too),and sent me to the the ER because he couldn't do anything (this had more to do with my high blood pressure, also an issue with no insurance, but happily the hospital gave me BP meds, and that's not what my question is about.)

The ER rediagnosed my respiratory infection as sinusitis. They gave me two injections, two pills, and five prescriptions for my various ailments. My blood pressure improved dramatically, almost immediately. So did my conjunctivitis and nasal passages. One thing concerns me:

My hearing hasn't improved at all. I think it has gotten worse. I can't hear my own footfalls with shoes on unless I high-step, I can't hear the clack-clack of the keyboard as I type this.

I've tried reading a bit online and found nothing too scary. It's "better" that the problem is in both ears, since it's a bit less likely that the infection would cause permament nerve/ear damage to both ears. The hospital said there's a lot of fluid in my ears, but didn't prescribe me anything specifically for my ears (I got a steroid, a BP med, an antibiotic, and two nasal sprays).

What I've read online is, you just have to wait for the infection to go away.
I guess it has not gone away yet, but it is concerning, perhaps needlessly, that all my symptoms have dramatically improved except that. Anyone have any thoughts, opinions, or experiences?
posted by mreleganza to Health & Fitness (28 answers total)
Your ears, nose and throat are all connected. You may just need time for your ears to decongest as well.

Decongesting is hard when you have high blood pressure, because the otc decongestants elevate your pressure.

Give it a few days and wait for the meds to do their job. Take everything, as prescribed, even if you feel better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:54 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just got over an ear infection that didn't get nearly that bad and it took about a day for the pressure to go down after the actual pain went away. If there was enough of a problem to block hearing, I could see it taking at least a few days. And not being able to take stimulant decongestants would almost certainly slow things down. But it's kind of hard to tell what the time frame is on all of this? Was the hospital visit, like, yesterday, or a week ago?
posted by Sequence at 11:07 AM on April 29, 2014

This happened to my husband over the winter, and it took much longer for him to fully recover his hearing than we expected. Weeks, not days. Hang in there.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2014

Ouch, ouch. Just got over a raging sinus infection at 16 weeks pregnant. My husband ended up in the ER with it because it went to his lungs. Ten days of steroids later... he could sleep through the night.

In my experience with the hearing loss (the first time I went to the doctor for sinusitis was because my ears hurt so bad), eventually your ears will start popping and clicking like you're on a plane. Then one day you will feel a rush of air and think, "Wow, my ears are draining!" and be happy. They might happen one at a time. It might take a few days.
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi there. I get severe sinus infections every year that require antibiotics, prednisone (oral steroids) and shit tons of pseudoephedrine. My ears are usually blocked for a solid two weeks even after I start treatment. Pseudoephedrine helps a lot with temporarily reducing this as my body heals. Go to the pharmacy and ask for the 12-hour Sudafed behind the counter - you want the real deal that is often used to make crystal meth, that requires you to show ID. It helps.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:09 AM on April 29, 2014

Go to the pharmacy and ask for the 12-hour Sudafed behind the counter - you want the real deal that is often used to make crystal meth, that requires you to show ID. It helps.

Don't do this with high blood pressure! These drugs elevate your pressure.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

SEQUENCE: "But it's kind of hard to tell what the time frame is on all of this? Was the hospital visit, like, yesterday, or a week ago?"

The hospital visit was yesterday.

Also: I'm down to take real-deal sudafed, but again, high blood pressure. Then again again, I'm on a BP med now. Then again again again, I can't consult a physician, unless somehow for free, to authorize/say no to potentially blood pressure increasing meds. I dunno. Side note: I have some Coricidin, a cold medication designed for HBP patients. In my experience, the way it avoids increasing your BP is by not working. :-(

FB friend just posted this:

Prepare a mixture of half vinegar and half isopropyl alcohol. Mix the vinegar and alcohol together and soak up solution into an eye-dropper. Put a few drops into the ear with the water and wait. Isopropyl alcohol and water are highly soluble in one another; the alcohol helps speed along the evaporation of the water in your ear.
The vinegar and alcohol solution will also help break up any waxy residue that might be keeping the fluid from exiting.

Not sure whether to try that or not, or just tough it out over the coming days/weeks.
posted by mreleganza at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2014

Ah, shit. Good point about the blood pressure - don't take the sudafed in that case. Again, it just helps reduce the symptom but it won't actually cure you. For that you just need time and patience (and some hot steamy showers can't hurt).
posted by joan_holloway at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2014

You should be able to call the doctor you saw yesterday to ask if Sudafed is okay. That would be perfectly normal, and free.

I wouldn't bother with the vinegar/alcohol thing, though it won't hurt. Your problem is in your middle and inner ear, not with wax in the ear canal. (Presumably when you were seen by the doctor they looked in your ears, and would have mentioned and probably removed any impacted wax.)
posted by BrashTech at 11:23 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't put any shit in your ears unless directed by a doctor.

It might be worth seeing if you can get a phone call into the ER doc and asking if there is anything you can do to speed up your ears cleaning up. I call my PCP sometimes between appointments or to get clarification, I don't see why you can't call the ER doc.
posted by radioamy at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2014

Are you on oral steroids now? If so, they'll probably reduce inflammation in your ear so it clears up, but it will take a bit. It took a full week for them to work on mine last summer, and I just had allergies, not what you have going on.
posted by metasarah at 11:26 AM on April 29, 2014

I can't consult a physician, unless somehow for free, to authorize/say no to potentially blood pressure increasing meds.

You can ask the pharmacist though. They are not doctors but can answer the question in broad strokes. They may, in fact, know more about the situation than your doctor.

WRT ears: get a cotton athletic sock. Put about a half a pound of raw rice in it, and knot the end. Put that in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, then hold it to your ears. This can help open up the swelling so everything can drain.
posted by KathrynT at 11:28 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do not put shit in your ears unless a doctor tells you to. Go to an ENT when your insurance kicks in if you still need to.

Echoing weeks not days, maybe even months, before your ears get back to normal or nearly normal if there's permanent damage. You have infection and pressure damage - bruising, essentially - that needs to heal. The steroids will help with inflammation, but you need to expect it to take time. Don't fiddle with it.

If you have zero improvement in 2 weeks you can start raising flags then, but this is very much a wait-and-see situation.

Heat is actually contraindicated if you do not have good airflow in your Eustachian tubes. Cold reduces swelling. Heat makes tissue and trapped air expand, which is excruciating if it has nowhere to go.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:30 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't put stuff in your ears! I had stuffed-up ear few weeks ago, and people around me kept saying it was probably ear wax. So I got some drops, put them in, and the stuffed-up ear went into full-on ear pain.

Then I went to the doctor who said it was an ear infection and there was a lot of pus behind my eardrum. Introducing more fluid as I did on my own was a really bad idea. I did a 10 day course of antibiotics and my ear pain/clogged ear didn't fully clearly up until 2-3 days after I was done with the antibiotics.

If you just started all your meds yesterday, i don't think you should expect you ears to be cleared yet.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:37 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take everything your doctor gave, nothing he didn't and wait.

You'll be fine.

Hot steamy showers are a good thing!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2014

Did you blow your nose really hard at all during this ordeal? I did that once and couldn't hear for a few days.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2014

What I've read online is, you just have to wait for the infection to go away.

This is correct. Unfortunately, ear infections can take a long time to clear (even up to 3 months - but yours will probably not last the long). Fewer and fewer doctors prescribe anything for ear infections these days, even for kids, unless it gets really bad.

The fluid/effusion in your ears is a result of infection and it will clear. If you want the BE SCARED WEBMD diagnosis, I would say you could be on the look out for lots of pain in the ear or brown discharge, which could signal a cholesteatoma, which can be a potential complication from a very bad infection (unlikely but possible. Will take a while to form).

unlikely infection would cause permament nerve/ear damage to both ears.

Yeah, I mean, an ear infection is really highly unlikely to cause nerve damage that will affect your hearing. Your infection is causing fluid to build up in the middle ear, which is still part of your conductive hearing system (not neurological). You probably feel a bit "full" in your ears? Headaches? Yeah, definitely not really potential for nerve damage.

Honestly, the most common lasting problem to hearing that comes from ear infection is if/when you have to have multiple tubes put in your ear drum and you get some scarring, which can affect conductive hearing. Barring that, you'll be fine. Rest, drink fluids.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:02 PM on April 29, 2014

I had a bad cold (last year) and I lost most of my hearing in one ear, than a good amount in the other ear. The original hearing loss ear quickly got better but it was 3 weeks before I had compleely normal hearing again. My cold actually went away fairly quickly. That was one of the most annoying times. I had a constant crackling in that ear and try as I might, no remedy helped, just time.
posted by Aranquis at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2014

I have tried lots of alternative stuff and put lots of stuff in my ears. I would not put alcohol mixed with vinegar in them -- and, in fact, a vinegar-based home remedy made one of my infections dramatically worse and landed me in the ER. So if you have no idea what that would do, this is not really the time to play around.

What might help and is recommended by some doctors is to use a saline rinse on your sinuses, not your ears. It also might speed recovery to brush and floss your teeth, gargle with something (salt water is fine), clean your ears (like with q-tips dipped in peroxide) and then do a sinus rinse all in quick succession. When I had chronic sinus and ear problems, treating all of these interconnected areas helped me heal faster. Otherwise, it seemed like the bugs just kind of moved around and found some new corner to hide out in.

You might also check if gauifenesin (Mucinex is a brand name of it) is acceptable with your blood pressure meds. It is an expectorant, not a decongestant. You need to drink lots of water with it. You can get off-brands for a lot less than Mucinex costs (CVS Pharmacy has one, so does Kmart. There are probably others). They tend to lack the blue dye it contains and tend to not be time released. For me, both of those are features, not bugs. For me, the off brands are better than Mucinex because my body does not deal well with blue dye and a long list of other stuff. (If you go this route, drink lots of water with it and, if it's okay, up your salt intake a little. It dries you out, which is why it might help with the fluid on the ear, but it doesn't work properly if you don't get enough water with it.)

Guaifenesin helped me get off steroids after two failed attempts. I used it for several years in preference to being on so many antibiotics and other harsher things. It is relatively safe compared to many of the drugs the doctors wanted me on.

My son, who has the same condition I have, was given antibiotics and other drugs for an ear infection at about a year of age and a couple of days later he suddenly began speaking more clearly. He had previously sounded like he was hearing everything under water. He was too little to tell me but, yes, I think if you get the infection properly cleared up, your hearing should go back to normal. It probably isn't permanently harmed. I had lots of hearing issues too when I had double ear infections and I don't think I suffered permanent hearing loss. Now that my ears are better, I understand song lyrics better than I ever did.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2014

Don't put anything in your ears, not even (or especially) not q-tips. You want the fluid to drain, either down your eustachian tubes or out your ear canal. You do not want to be moving wax around in there and create pooling.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, you might get a lot of relief (or at least a satisfyingly gross amount of expectoration) from a Neti pot, which can help encourage congestion drainage.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:10 PM on April 29, 2014

I just want to say this in case it is unclear: the antibiotic should be helping to clear up the ear infection. From the way you said that you did not receive any medicine specifically for your ears, I'm not sure if you know that. I would not be concerned after 24 hours of starting the antibiotics that your hearing is not back to normal.
posted by freezer cake at 2:05 PM on April 29, 2014

It's totally worth discussing if pseudoepinephrine (or any other drug) is a good idea with the specific bp meds you have with the dispensing pharmacist. IME, most are quite happy to do so, even seeing it as their duty. Pharmacists really do know a lot about drug interactions, quite often more than even GP or ER docs.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on April 29, 2014

I understand Lutoslawski's concerns (about putting q-tips in the ear -- a lot of people recommend against it and I fully admit to doing lots of things doctors and the world would not recommend) but fluid from the middle ear doesn't typically drain out through the outer ear. It is behind the eardrum and typically drains down the throat. So moving wax around in the outer ear shouldn't "create pooling." I have never heard that. If you do have serious wax build-up, doctors used to remove wax from my son's ears in the ER as part of treating his repeated ear infections. So removing wax can help your ear heal, if done properly. This one notes that hearing loss can occur due to the Eustachian tube being plugged, which is what causes fluid to not drain from the ear.
However, sometimes, viruses and bacteria enter the middle ear through this tube, especially during cold and viral infections. This bacterial or viral invasion causes fluid collection in the middle ear. Fluid collection prevents the middle ear from vibrating properly, thereby resulting in hearing loss.
I used to clear my Eustachian tubes using sinus irrigation methods. I don't recall exactly how I did it and it hurt like hell. But I will re-iterate that treating your throat along with your sinuses and other interrelated areas may help your middle ear fluid drain quicker. Reducing inflammation in your throat can help open up the Eustachian tubes and let the middle ear drain. I know this from first hand experience. I had double ear infections with sinus infection for many years.
posted by Michele in California at 2:52 PM on April 29, 2014

Nthg the 'it will take a few weeks'.

I used to get sinus infections all the time, and the last thing to feel better was always my ears. I have, and you may also have, collapsing Eustachian tubes. The tube clamps shut and it takes for ever to drain. In the weeks between when the infection started to clear and when the darn things popped back open (the best feeling ever) I found gargling with warm salt water to be extremely effective at getting rid of any gunk and reducing the pain and swelling.
And I do agree that if your ears aren't feeling quite a bit better in two weeks, it's time to visit the doctor again.
posted by susiswimmer at 5:45 PM on April 29, 2014

Re: the point from Michele in California, if your canals were blocked with wax, you would know, because multiple doctors have looked in them recently. They wouldn't have been able to see your eardrums otherwise.

The best way to remove wax from your ears is not to use Q tips, which just push the wax back against the eardrum and out of reach, but to soften the wax using over the counter drops such as Debrox. Again, if you weren't told that you have wax blocking your ears on your visit yesterday, this probably isn't the issue.

As noted, the fluid is behind your eardrums, not in your ear canals, so messing with your ear canals is probably not going to do anything. Antibiotics just address infection. It's a little unusual that you even got antibiotics for only 4 days of symptoms with acute sinusitis. It's usually caused by viruses and it usually resolves spontaneously. But, I'm not your doctor and this is just general information about sinusitis, not medical advice about your case, there may have been other reasons in your case why you got antibiotics. In most cases patients with acute sinusitis have to wait until the symptoms have been going on for at least 7-10 days before antibiotics are considered as an option. But you also have symptoms that are not typical of sinusitis, like the conjunctivitis and the fluid in your ears. See this eMedicine link for some physician-level information on the typical symptoms of acute sinusitis.

Don't get overly concerned about the hearing issue yet - fluid in the ear doesn't dry up immediately. For example, check out this page from the CDC that discusses otitis media with effusion - a similar condition of fluid in the ear causing temporary hearing loss. It suggests to wait a month for the fluid to go away.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:11 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have high blood pressure and a pharmacist recommended I take Mucinex when I have sinus issues as it thins all mucous in your body and not just in your chest, which means sinuses as well. Make sure to get the one that contains simply guaifenesin and no decongestants and take only as directed you can get generic ones that are much cheaper than the brand name.

I prefer the original one you take every four hours, there is a long lasting one as well but I actually find it less effective all around. The first time I took it with a sinus infection I felt nauseous but that was because it helps the gunk in your ears/sinuses drain away not dry up and it was draining into my stomach. Once the crap is drained out of your ears you should hear better.
posted by wwax at 11:06 AM on April 30, 2014

I would have this checked out.

I have permanent hearing loss in the higher registers in one ear due to ONE ear infection I had when young.

I mean, this is your hearing. I'd want to make sure this was temporary if I were you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:15 PM on April 30, 2014

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