Can the winter affect your hearing?

As cold weather settles in for its annual visit, make sure to take necessary precautions to protect your ears — inside and out — all season.

Can the winter affect your hearing?

Can the winter affect your hearing?

Those earmuffs could be doing more than simply protecting the outer ear from frigid temps. While age related hearing loss and noise induced hearing loss are the most common reasons that healthy hearing is lost, other factors or conditions can negatively impact the auditory system. As cold weather settles in for its annual visit, make sure to take necessary precautions to protect your ears — inside and out — all season.

  1. Combating hardening ear wax

A reversible condition that is worsened by exposing the ears to below freezing degrees is hardening ear wax that can eventually result in a blockage and impaired hearing. People with hearing loss who treat their condition with hearing aids are at a higher risk for developing hardened ear wax because having a foreign object in the ear naturally results in a higher production of wax.When wax builds up to an extreme degree in the ear, it can result in temporary hearing loss or tinnitus. Symptoms include a feeling of pressure in the ears, headaches, earaches or impaired hearing. Home treatments may work for less severe cases. However, it cannot be stressed enough that cotton swabs should never be used in the ear. Using them will only cause the wax to be lodged deeper in the ear. Instead, try using an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil or hydrogen peroxide into the ear canal. Wait a few days while the wax softens, then use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt the head and pull the outer ear up and back to straighten the canal. When finished irrigating, tip the head to the side to let the water and excess wax drain out. If this doesn’t work, your physician can properly and effectively apply methods to remove the hardened wax.

  1. Increased risk of ear infections

Cold weather heightens the risk of developing an ear infection because cold temperatures limit the circulation in the ear. Swollen glands may also block the ears ability to drain fluid. When these irrigation systems are blocked, fluid can build and sit in the ear making a prime breeding ground for infection to set in. Continuous ear infections can lead to serious hearing problems over time. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists chronic ear infections as one of the primary causes of hearing loss.

You can limit your risk of ear infections by keeping the ear, throat and neck area warm when spending time outside. You can also seek to reduce instances of fluid build-up by taking over the counter medication that aids in sinus passage drainage.

  1. Surfer’s Ear, or Exostosis

While the effects are damaging to the auditory system, the initial intention of Surfer’s Ear is to actually protect the ear from cold wind and water.  Also known as Exostosis, it’s certainly less prevalent, but this condition can lead to irreversible hearing loss. Abnormal bone growths appear on existing bones in the ear, obstructing sound from completing its normal path to the auditory nerve or by resulting in extreme wax build up in the ear. In its progression, it can cause constant pain among sufferers and patients have also reported instances of tinnitus.

The best way to prevent this condition is to protect the ear from over exposure to cold winds and water. While surfing may not be your passion here in St. Louis, exostosis could develop while pursuing other sports that expose you to cold air and moisture, such as skiing or snowboarding. If you do go surfing or swimming in warmer places on vacation, do invest in custom ear molds or swim molds. Always wear cold weather ear protection when spending time outdoors. At Greentree Audiology, we can recommend and fit your ears for protection that will allow you to continue to enjoy both your current degree of hearing and your favorite cold weather outdoor activities for years to come.

  1. Moisture concerns for hearing aids

For those whose concern also includes the effects of how the winter cold affects hearing aid wearers, do note the increased risk of moisture damage during this season. Hearing aids themselves should function in the same ways they would in milder temperatures, however, there are many cold weather activities that might result in more moisture than normal. Monitor your hearing aids condition after walking long distances outdoors which could transfer sweat onto your devices. Condensation as a result of temperature changes should also be considered and responded to as needed.

Visit Us at Greentree Audiology

If you have ear-related concerns this winter, visit us at Greentree Audiology. Our team is here to support you and your hearing health.

John Scarlas was born in Tampa, Florida and raised in Beckley, West Virginia. He received his Bachelor of Science from West Virginia University in 1995, and he received his Master’s degree in Audiology from Towson University in 1997.

Doctor of Audiology
Sherry Pickett, Doctor of Audiology
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