Protecting your ears from the cold this winter
In the world of hearing heath, we talk a lot about how to protect hearing aids during extreme weather. But what about your ears, themselves? We all remember responsible adults telling us to keep our ears warm. But did all those warnings really matter?
Of course, they did. And they’re still important today.
Let’s start on the outside of your ears.
When you step out into winter weather, your ears tend to get painfully cold pretty quickly. That’s because they’re pretty much all cartilage, with none of the insulating benefits of muscle or fat. Keeping your outer ears covered can help you avoid that nasty, freezing soreness you may remember from childhood. You know, the kind of cold that made a mischievous flick of someone’s finger about as painful as a punch in the mouth. In addition to pain. Exposing your ears to frigid temperatures puts you at risk of frostbite.
Now, let’s head inside.
Letting cold air directly into your ears can aggravate ear-canal nerves that let you know, in no uncertain terms, that they are in pain. Pain inside your ears can also result from the effect of bitter weather on inner-ear blood circulation.
It’s not just about pain.
Spending a lot of time outside, without ear protection, during cold weather can also have a direct effect on your ability to hear. Even if you can physically stand frosty temperatures, your body may work around you, protecting itself in its own. The ear canal, after long exposure to cold and wind, can develop bony growths that are intended to shield the inner ear from the elements. Those growths can interfere with sound that is trying to make its way to the eardrum, causing difficulty in hearing.
The good news is that surgery can reopen the ear canal. But those growths can also trap, dirt, dust, earwax and water, leading to frequent ear infections, which can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Play it safe.
Start covering your ears when the temperature outside hits 59°F may not seem very cold. You might not feel particularly cold, but your ears may feel differently about it. At that temperature, blood vessels start trying to store up warmth by constricting, leaving you open to the effects of cold. Wear either ear muffs or a hat with flaps that fit securely over your ears.
Another important part of playing it safe is to protect your ears only from the outside. Do not plug up your ear canal with cotton or some other substance; pushing things into your ear canals isn’t a good idea, in general.
And here’s one more quick tip: Since keeping your ears covered is likely to make you perspire, be sure to dry your ears thoroughly after taking off your hat or ear muffs. Cold weather and moisture in the ears is a bad combination!
Here’s hoping you stay warm this winter!