Tips to protect your hearing this winter
We may be enjoying the halcyon days of fall, but make no mistake: for a good part of the country, harsh winter weather is on its way, and with it comes danger to your hearing. Here are some tips to protect your hearing and hearing aids this winter.
Outdoor machinery can wreak havoc on your hearing, and the biggest culprit in the winter months is the snow blower. Snow blowers can exceed 100 decibels, which is loud enough to cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. 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!
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. While researchers speculate that cognitive overload, decreased environmental awareness or compromised vestibular system could be the reason, one thing is certain: the risk of falling increases even more in the winter time with the onset of snow and ice. If your vestibular or balance system is compromised due to hearing loss, you need to be especially alert for hidden ice patches, snow covered objects and slick steps which could lead to a fall.
Winter brings a higher risk of ear infection, in both children and adults, for several reasons. One of these reasons is that less blood is circulated in the cold; add that to greater risk of irritation, trapped moisture or bacteria and you have a recipe for a painful condition known as otitis media.
Otitis media, or ear infections, are inflammations of the middle ear which result from a cold, an infection or presence of a virus or bacteria. Infected material builds up behind the eardrum and blocks the Eustachian tube. Antibiotics can treat most ear infections but until the fluid is cleared, untreated 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.
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 winter months when resistance to infection is lower.
It turns out earmuffs, hats, and scarves are not just fashion accessories. Excessive exposure to extreme cold and wet conditions can lead to a 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 knobs of bony growth to appear on the bone surrounding the ear canal. As a result the ear canal can become blocked, which increases 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.
Protect your hearing aids
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 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 batteries. You can also buy hearing aid sweatbands called Ear Gear, 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.
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, which can lead to temporary hearing loss and other problems. It is better to reschedule your flight if possible to prevent further problems. And if you do fly and happen to experience hearing difficulties post-flight, see a hearing healthcare professional if your hearing doesn’t return to normal after a few days.
Indoor sports arenas
For many people, winter means spending time in arenas watching their favorite sports like basketball or hockey. But beware, because the decibels 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, which according to experts is enough to cause immediate damage. 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.
If moving to sunny Florida is starting to sound better and better, don’t despair. With our tips, good quality ear protection and some common sense, when all of the snow melts in the spring your ears will be healthy and ready to hear the birds chirping once again.