Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Did you know your ears and hearing are at risk during winter more than any other time of the year (except perhaps 4th of July fireworks)? To that end, here are some tips to protect your hearing and hearing aids this winter.
Ear problems in winter
Watch out for loud winter noises
Outdoor machinery can wreak havoc on your hearing, and a big culprit in the winter months is the whine of the snow blower. Snow blowers can exceed 100 decibels—loud enough to cause noise-induced hearing loss. A simple solution is a pair of foam earplugs that can be purchased from any drug store. You can also wear protective earmuffs or noise-reducing headphones that fit over your ears, which will serve the dual purpose of protecting your ears from the cold as well as potentially damaging noise levels.
If you wear hearing aids, you may wish to leave them inside while you’re out in the snow, to avoid exposure to moisture. With your head covered in a hat or earmuffs, sweat in your ear canals can be as much of a potential problem as snow!
Indoor sports arenas reach record-breaking decibel levels
For many people, winter means spending time in arenas watching their favorite sports like basketball or hockey. But be aware the decibels in indoor arenas can—and often do—reach dangerous levels. And it is not an accident: Arenas pride themselves on their fans’ enthusiasm and claim bragging rights for reaching record-breaking decibel levels. Some arenas can reach levels in excess of 120 decibels!
Even if the damage isn’t felt immediately, noise damage accumulates over time. So be sure to take along hearing protection; stash a few pairs of foam earplugs from the drugstore in your purse or car. Placed correctly, these inexpensive earplugs will reduce the harmful vibrations from excessive noise and help save your hearing down the road.
Be alert for slick surfaces when walking
People with hearing loss are more likely to fall
Those with hearing loss are three times as likely to suffer a dangerous fall as those without hearing loss, according to a 2014 Johns Hopkins study. The risk of falling increases even more in the winter time with the onset of snow and ice. If your balance system is compromised due to hearing loss or a vestibular disorder like Meniere’s disease, you need to be especially alert for hidden ice patches, snow-covered objects and slick steps that could lead to a fall.
Take it easy when you have a cold or the flu
And see a doctor if you suspect an ear infection
During the winter, your ears are often colder, which means reduced circulation to provide a healthy blood supply. Meanwhile, viruses and bacterial infections are a lot more common in the winter. Put these together, and you have a heightened risk sinus infections and a painful condition known as otitis media.
Otitis media, or an ear infection, causes painful swelling and inflammation of the middle ear. The swelling and infection can build up and increase the pressure behind the ear drum and block drainage from the Eustachian tube. Antibiotics can treat most ear infections, but until the fluid is cleared, temporary hearing loss can result. Be sure to treat colds and flu immediately with rest, medication and plenty of fluids, and if you suspect an ear infection see a doctor immediately to prevent hearing damage. Your doctor may prescribe medication and/or nasal sprays to help you get some relief.
You can reduce your risk of ear infections by keeping your ears warm and dry when you are outside in winter weather. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising to improve blood circulation can also be helpful, especially in the colder months when resistance to infection is lower. Whatever you do, don’t put a cotton swab in your ear, as it can push hardened earwax further back into the ear.
Love to ski or ride snowmobiles? Keep your ears warm and dry
Ears hurt from cold weather? Don’t risk exotosis!
It turns out earmuffs, hats, and scarves are not just fashion accessories. Excessive exposure to extreme cold and wet conditions can lead to a rare condition known as exostosis. Also known as “surfer’s ear” due to the condition being especially prevalent in those who spend time in or around cold water, exostosis results when exposure to the cold causes abnormal bone growths to appear on the bone surrounding the ear canal. As a result, the ear canal can become blocked, which increases the risk of infection due to trapped fluid. While the condition can be corrected surgically, avid skiers, snowmobilers or snowshoers should make sure to keep their ears warm, dry and covered to reduce their risk.
Also known as “surfer’s ear” due to the condition being prevalent in those who spend time in or around cold water, exostosis results when exposure to the cold causes knobs of bony growth to appear on the bone surrounding the ear canal.
Cold weather and clogged ears
Got clogged ears? If you are planning on flying to your holiday travel destination, be careful not to fly if you are sick. A cold can lead to a blockage in the Eustachian tube, which will prevent the necessary equalization of pressure in the ears. A ruptured eardrum or severe infection can result, leading to temporary hearing loss and other problems. It is better to reschedule your flight if possible to prevent further problems. More: Airplanes and ear pain: Why it happens and what you can do
Wear hearing aids and planning to travel this winter? Make sure you read our air travel tips for people with hearing loss.
Proper winter hearing aid care
Hearing aids are especially susceptible to harsh winter elements, so wearing hats, scarves or earmuffs can not only protect your hearing but your hearing aids as well. Wind, rain, cold and freezing temperatures can shorten disposable battery life as well as allowing moisture to build up in your hearing aids. Keeping hearing aids warm and dry with a hat or earmuffs is a good idea, but keep in mind that if you wear those you might sweat, which will also cause moisture to build up in the hearing aids.
An effective solution is to use a dry-aid kit overnight after removing disposable batteries (rechargeable batteries won’t normally require this step, but check with your hearing care provider). You can also buy hearing aid sweatbands, which are spandex covers designed to keep moisture from hearing aids. And if the place you live has lots of rain in winter, water-resistant hearing aids might be the answer. Want to upgrade? Here’s how to find hearing aids near you.