Protect your hearing from Old Man Winter
Winter is coming. For those of you living in the north, it might already be here. While most of us simply gripe our way through the snowy months, the yearly freeze can pose a direct threat to your ears, your hearing aids and even your physical safety. The cold weather, ice and snow can cause more than just your run-of-the-mill sniffles. It can exacerbate hearing damage and severely shorten the life of your hearing aid. Protect yourself and your hearing aids this winter by being conscious of the risks and taking the necessary precautions to prevent harm.
The most obvious threat to your hearing, of course, is always excessive noise. Machines like snow blowers and snowmobiles are notoriously loud, so be careful if you’re spending any extended period of time around them. While snowmobiles today generally run within a safe decibel range, that wasn’t always the case. Prior to 1969, snowmobiles could reach decibel levels as high as 102, a level which experts warn you shouldn’t expose yourself to for more than 15 minutes. Legislation in 1975 placed a restriction on snowmobile noise levels, taking it down to 75 decibels.
Snow blowers, however, are still more of a concern. Estimates on decibel levels for snow blowers range from 90 to 106, a level which requires earplugs. Even if your snow blower is at the low end of the decibel estimate, experts say you shouldn’t spend more than two hours in that kind of environment without some form of ear protection.
According to the National Institutes of Health, acute ear infections in children occur most often in winter. Ear infections develop when the Eustachian tube, which runs from each ear and down the back of the throat, becomes blocked, preventing normal fluid drainage. Ear infections are very common after a cold. Oftentimes antibiotics are all that are needed to clear up the infection, but on rare occasions surgery may be necessary.
While most infections are minor complications that are easily treated, more serious problems can also occur. Temporary hearing loss is a potential side effect of a common ear infection, but other more serious and lasting results include meningitis (a brain infection), mastoiditis (infection of the bones around the skull), a ruptured eardrum or the development of a cyst.
Severe temperature changes, such as entering a heated house when it’s cold outside, can cause moisture build-up. Moisture can damage hearing aids and shorten battery life. To help prevent this from happening, investing in a pair of earmuffs, a hat or an ear band is a good idea to help prevent condensation from occurring. If you do notice some moisture on your hearing aid, use a hearing aid dryer (NOT a blow dryer) to dry it off, and as always, take the batteries out at night and place your hearing aids in a drying compartment.
One of the lesser known side effects of hearing loss is your loss of balance. The key to your physical equilibrium rests in your inner ear, where three canals containing fluid and sensors read every movement your head makes, transmitting them to the brain. In many people with hearing loss, this ability is compromised. Dizziness is a common side effect, which doesn’t bode well when you’re braving a poorly shoveled sidewalk or flight of stairs. A recent Johns Hopkins Medical study found hearing loss was responsible for a three-fold increase in the risk of falling, due to impaired balance. Watch where you’re walking this winter and keep a sharp lookout for patches of ice and snow where ice could be lurking underneath. Above all, if you’re experiencing episodes of dizziness, see your doctor or hearing health practitioner right away.
While we can't prevent winter's chill from settling in, you can prevent the cold from causing damage to your ears or hearing aids while still enjoying the snow.