Winter can be a wonderful season filled with holiday cheer, cozy sweaters, hot cocoa, snowball fights, and thrilling sports like skiing and ice skating. Unfortunately, our ears are particularly vulnerable to the cold (especially if hearing aids are worn), so protective measures must be taken to enjoy the season safely.
Keep ’Em Dry
Ward Off the Wind
Give Your Tinnitus Some TLC
Protect Your Ears From Fluids
Low temperatures affect the functioning of nearly all battery-powered electronics (many smartphones will actually turn off when exposed to extreme cold), so always keep extra hearing aid batteries on hand during the winter months.
Hearing aids are somewhat protected by your body heat but still need to be cared for properly when worn outside. To prevent damage from moisture such as snow, sweat, and condensation, wipe down the battery compartment with a warm, dry cloth at least once a day, and store your aids in a dehumidifier overnight.
Protective clothing is key in cold weather. You may have heard of swimmer’s ear, a painful condition that occurs when water and bacteria become trapped in the ear canal, but did you know there is also a phenomenon called surfer’s ear? Though less common than swimmer’s ear and certainly a concern for surfers, anyone can be susceptible under the right conditions. Also known as exostosis, it is an overgrowth of bone in the ear canal resulting from repeated exposure to cold wind. It causes the canal to narrow, trapping earwax and leading to buildup. Pain, infection, and hearing loss are all symptoms of exostosis. Fortunately it is reversible, but it requires surgical treatment. Prevention is the best strategy for combating surfer’s ear. Wearing a thick wool hat or earmuffs in cold, windy weather is enough to protect you.
Online searches about tinnitus — you might know it as a ringing, buzzing, or pulsing in the ears — get a boost of popularity in the winter months. It’s unclear whether this means colder temperatures actually worsen tinnitus symptoms, but a drop in temperature can reduce circulation in the ears, which might worsen the ringing. Warm head coverings in the outdoors, remaining indoors on windy days, and avoiding icy conditions can help.
Another kind of cold that can affect your hearing is the sniffling, sneezing kind. Mild respiratory infections are very common during the winter, so if you find yourself coming down with a cold, take care not to get any water in your ears. Fluid buildup may be inevitable, depending on how severe your illness is, but introducing extra moisture to the ear canal certainly won’t help. If earaches develop, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Infections should be addressed quickly to ensure the inner ear does not become damaged. Many cases of preventable, though permanent, sensorineural hearing loss result each year from improperly treated ear infections.
Remember: Cold weather can also harden earwax, causing discomfort and making it difficult to remove. It’s never a bad idea to make an appointment with your audiologist for a professional ear cleaning!