Be winter-ready: Tips on how to maintain great ear health this winter

Published: Dec 20th, 2019

Winter is here and, whilst fun and beautiful, it can become troublesome for your hearing, hearing aids and ears. Extra care, therefore, is needed during these chilly months.  With that in mind, here is some general advice I give to all my patients on how to avoid damage this season.

Infections

When winter sweeps in, your ears are exposed to more cold air and weather conditions. Colder ears mean limiting circulation – which is essential for a healthy blood supply. Together with the risk of infections being higher than the rest of the year, you are more likely to be at risk of developing Otitis Media: a common and painful infection of the ear.

Otitis Media affects the middle ear and causes painful swelling and inflammation. In some cases, this condition, when untreated, can damage the eardrum and ultimately block the Eustachian tube. This type of blockage can stop the essential equalisation of pressure in your ears.

Most antibiotics will successfully treat ear infections – but hearing loss can occur until the infected fluid has drained away. If you suspect an ear infection, arrange to see a professional as soon as you can to avoid hearing damage. As with most medical conditions – early prevention is key. Once you are on the right medication for your infection, make sure you rest, drink plenty of fluids and maintain consistency with your medication.

The risk of an ear infection can be avoided if you keep your ears warm and dry throughout the winter. It may seem like such a simple tip, but I always advise my patients to invest in a good woolly hat or earmuffs when the temperature drops – sometimes this starts as early as autumn. Even if the temperature feels warm at first, weather can drop degrees quickly. So, if you’re planning on a day trip out, be organised – it’s better to always have your woolly accessories with you just in case the temperature dips.

Being consistent with your diet, eating healthy and regularly exercising can have huge benefits to your winter ear health. All these extras can improve blood circulation, which is an essential resistance to contracting an infection.

Winter Sports

Similar to Otitis Media, overexposure to cold weather and winter sports can result in a rare condition called Exostosis – commonly known as ‘Surfer’s Ear’: a condition that is seen more in those who spend a lot of time in or around cold water and resulting in additional bone growth within the ear canal.

Here, the ear becomes blocked with fluid and causes infection. This can be cured with surgery, but the risk of initially contracting can be dramatically reduced if proper protection is used while partaking in winter sports. So, winter sports fans be weather-smart and keep your ears warm, dry and covered to reduce the risk.

Outdoor Machinery

Outdoor machinery can be rather problematic for your ears. Being exposed to such noise can be harmful and has been known to reach over 100 decibels. You may not feel like the noise is at a damaging level, but over time it can be detrimental to your hearing – due to noise damage accumulating over time. Always wear hearing protection when using outdoor equipment, as they decrease dangerous vibrations from loud noise.

I would recommend foam earplugs, an inexpensive solution, earmuffs or noise-protector headphones. These would not only reduce sound levels but keep your ears warm and dry too. You may look strange wearing ear-muffs in summer so headphones are probably the way to go.

Ear Wax

Your ears are generally the first to feel the effects of cold weather and along with that comes extra ear wax. This additional ear wax is the body’s way of protecting itself against a threat – the threat now being the cold temperatures. In simple terms, earwax, or cerumen, has various roles: it moistens and cleans the skin inside your ear to protect them from foreign objects. This is why those who wear hearing aids see an increase in earwax – as such devices are seen as a foreign object.

An abnormal amount of ear wax can cause infections and solidify inside your ear – resulting in dangerous blockages and pain. This is one of the main complaints from my patients this time of year, but often an easy problem to fix. Try to maintain good ear health by wiping away any excess moisture in your ears with a soft, dry cloth. Avoid using earbuds, as these may push the wax further into the ear.

If left untreated, hardened ear wax can cause hearing loss, bleeding and excessive pain. Always contact an audiologist for medical help and to professionally and safely remove ear wax build-up.

Balance

Balance is compromised for those of us with hearing loss or who are profoundly deaf. So, when winter brings an arrival of snow and ice, we need to be more vigilant of those cumbersome and dangerous hidden ice patches and slick steps. It is important to remember that during these cold months we are three times more likely to suffer from a dangerous fall. So, invest in some sturdy boots with grip, take extra care and enjoy the great outdoors!

Hearing Aid Care

Hearing aids don’t like the elements of winter much. The cold wind and rain zap the battery life and moisture can accumulate within your devices causing malfunctions. Wearing hats and earmuffs are great solutions, but they bring other problems – such as sweat. Regularly check that your hearing aid battery compartments are free of moisture and get into the habit of daily wiping them with a dry cloth.

I would highly recommend a hearing aid dehumidifier. This enables you to wear your hearing aids during the day and to be aired overnight. They are a great way to remove any excess moisture, due to the build-up of condensation in changes of atmosphere. They are usually small in design, compact enough to travel with and ensure that your hearing aids are successfully functioning wherever you are.  An alternative would be to allow your hearing aids to warm up and dry out naturally – instead of using heat.

Good hearing aid management will prolong the life of your hearing devices and reduce the risk of future complications. It is important to look after your ear health, so you can continue to experience the wonders of winter safely. Wrap up warm, head out and listen to your new soundscape transforming around you.

This article was written by our friend, Paul Harrison, BSHAA Council Member and Director of Hearing Aid UK.

If you have any tips for looking after your hearing aids, cochlear devices or even how to keep your interpreter warm and happy in the winter months, put it on our facebook page. Alternatively, if you would like to write an article or opinion piece, get in touch.

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