While some might be waiting the whole year for this chilling season, with such enjoyable of looking through the closed frosty windows at the leaves changing colours, sipping at a hot coffee mug, with layers of clothes put on, there may be some who want it to be warm all the year round. But with blankets out from the cupboard - one thing is clear - winter is here, and whether you like it or not, you have to accept the hibernating season. Along with it you also need to know how to take care of your health in this wintertide - and this includes your hearing health as well.
What is the Relation Between Winter and Hearing Loss?
While there are so many number of factors affecting your hearing health, such as overexposure to loud noises, defects or malformations in the internal or (even external) ear structure, improper cleaning of your ear canal, thus causing damage to internal parts, ear infections, certain ototoxic medications and some diseases such as Meniere’s disease; you will be surprised to know that the cold temperatures are actually very harmful for you - it does not only bring about sniffles and coughs, but is also not a very favorable thing for your hearing health. Exposure to very low temperatures can cause pain in the ears, dizziness, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, and even sometimes hearing loss - which can be worse! So you not only need to protect yourself from catching cold by wearing warm clothes and using humidifiers at home and workplace, but you also need to use good ear protective devices or garments to prevent yourself from acquiring hearing problems - which in some case might be permanent and irreversible.
Do you know that the changes in the barometric pressure can lead to hearing problems? When the seasons change, significant changes in the barometric pressure are observed. When barometric pressure drops suddenly, the pressure outside your ears goes down before the pressure inside your ears can adjust to it or equalize the sudden change in pressure. The fluid in your ears is very sensitive to these changes and hence, can cause the sensation of your ears popping due to this pressure imbalance.
Unfortunately, the cold and harsh winter weather is not limited up to causing damage to your hearing itself - its icy and destructive hands can reach out to hearing aids as well! Yes, if you don’t take care of your hearing aids properly, the cold weather might destroy them and they will just stop benefiting you!
How Can the Cold Season be a Cause of Hearing Loss?
While there can be so many causes of hearing loss or other hearing problems ranging from overexposure to loud decibels of noises, ear infections, diseases like Meniere’s disease, perforation or other defects in the internal ear structure, medications that are harmful for hearing health, and due to ageing (prescubysis). But did you ever think that the cold weather you love so much might be damaging for your hearing health - in ways more than one? Let’s have a look at some of them.
Exostosis or Surfer’s Ear
Although it causes auditory damage, its real intention is to protect you from the harsh winter weather. There are proven cases that have shown that the chance of developing tinnitus or ringing in the ears increases in cold temperatures. One of the major causes of hearing loss in winter is exostosis, more commonly known as the ‘surfer’s ears’.
During the winter season, your body tries to protect you from the cold and harsh weather and the low temperatures. As a result, the bone which surrounds your ear canal thickens as your body tries to form a protective barrier to fight against the cold. Exostosis is a condition in which a bone grows or thickens on top of an existing bone in the ear canal, and in most cases leading to the eardrum, so as to protect you from the cold water and wind, thus making the whole area and its surroundings to swell. This results in the blockage of the ear canal thus interfering with sound reception as well as the ear’s ability to produce and expel or get rid of excess earwax using the conventional and natural methods.
Therefore, the person faces hearing problems and hearing loss, pain in the ears, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and other ear infections caused as a result of earwax or water being trapped by the bony growth. This increases the risk of developing multiple ear infections, which is a very common sign of exostosis. Exostosis can occur in either one or in both the ears. Children and teenagers are more prone to exostosis than adults. Seek a hearing loss treatment from a certified Audiologist on an urgent basis before things get worse!
Although exostosis is common in surfers (hence the name ‘surfer’s ears’) or sailors, or other water sports persons like skiers or snowboarders, because of their frequent exposure to cold water and wind for prolonged periods of time with inadequate or no protection, it is also seen in others who do not take proper or adequate protection of their ears during the winter season. So don’t forget to carry your caps, earmuffs, ear plugs or ear molds, while surfing or going for a trip to a chilly region. Stay warm, stay healthy!
How to Treat Exostosis?
Always keep in mind that once you develop exostosis, it won’t go away by itself very easily. You will have to take immediate action to fight it and get rid of it as soon as possible. While some exostoses show no symptoms, others may be serious enough to require a surgical treatment. Consult an Audiologist, who will guide you throughout. Before starting any treatment procedure however, a proper diagnosis and examination of your exostosis will be performed with the help of X-ray or other scans. Based on the severity of the problem, your Audiologist will suggest you the treatment method.
One of the most common ways of treating exostosis is by undergoing a surgical procedure known as canaloplasty, which is done to remove the bony growth in the ear canal. Surgical removal of the bony growth in the ear canal by canaloplasty is usually successful. The patient, however, needs to be very careful even after the surgery, and professional Audiologists and ENT specialists recommend the patient not to take part in any cold-water or cold-wind activities for at least 8 weeks after the surgery, in order to avoid further complications or infections.
However, the symptoms of surfer’s ears has the habit of coming back time and again even after undergoing a surgery. Studies have shown that older the patient, more chances will there be of its return and recurrence - which however, can be reduced if you use earplugs properly and protect your ears from the cold wind and water adequately. You can also reduce the amount of time spent in cold water and wind. It is always go for preventive measures instead of allowing situations turn complicated and you will have no other option than to go for a proper hearing loss treatment.
Apart from increasing the risks of exostosis, the cold weather and the temperature drops are enough to harden your earwax. Hardened earwax can cause discomfort and might even lead to ear blockages, thus causing difficulties in hearing. An earwax blockage might also lead to other symptoms like earache, having the sensation of ringing or other strange noises in the ears (tinnitus), having the feeling of fullness in the affected ear, diminished hearing in the affected ear, infections, headaches and even dizziness. This condition is more common in hearing aid users, it is because of the ear mold of the device which is plugged inside the ear canal all the time. This causes the ear to produce more wax as your ears feel that there is a ‘foreign object’ placed inside it.
We understand how bothersome it is to deal with this hardened ear wax issue, when things are already not that easy with having to wear and live a life with hearing aids. And situations grow worse in a harsh and cold weather such as winter - which brings along with it so many other issues such as cough, cold, sniffles, and even exostosis!
In such a irritating situation it would be a primary and most obvious instinct for you to clean and get rid of this unwanted element called earwax. You might even start carrying with you cotton-swabs and ear-buds. But you would be surprised to know that IT IS DAMAGING YOUR EAR! You are doing the exact opposite of what you must actually do! Yes, never attempt to clean your earwax in this manner - it will make things worse. The more you try to clean your earwax and ‘get rid’ of it, the more it will be pushed inside the ear canal, towards the eardrum, thus blocking your passage of the ear canal. This will make it harder for sound waves to travel to the eardrum and the internal ear as a result. This will further result in developing worse symptoms and even lead to hearing loss. So instead of not knowing the proper way to clean your hardened earwax and doing it in a manner that is harmful for your hearing health, know about the methods that actually help and are approved by Audiologists and other hearing healthcare professionals.
How to Clean Your Earwax Safely?
Although this topic is going to deal with a number of ways you can remove your earwax, yet you must always keep in mind and as Audiologists always recommend that you must never clean your earwax too much, too rigorously or too often. It might actually be dangerous for your ears. Go for gentle and harmless methods. Here are some of them -
Avoid overcleaning. This can irritate the ear canal, lead to overproduction and as a result overaccumulation of earwax, and might even causes infections.
Don’t use sharp objects to clean your earwax, like hairpins, earbuds or cotton swabs. It can damage the internal and delicate parts of the ear, and even cause perforations or hole in the eardrum. As a result you might experience various problems related to hearing such as hearing loss, tinnitus or ringing or roaring in the ears, having the sensation of fullness of the ears, and other complications like dizziness and loss of balance.
Some solutions can also help loosen and get rid of hardened ear wax such as warm olive oil, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, salt water or hydrogen peroxide. Making a warm solution and putting a few drops in your affected ear while lying on the other side will help the mixture reach deep inside your ear canal. After 10 minutes wash it off and dry your ears carefully. This will help the earwax to soften and easily come out of the ear canal on its own. If you still face any problems, consult your Audiologist who will easily remove your earwax and help you get rid of this problem.
Like solutions, steam too helps to remove your hardened ear wax easily. The expert tip is to soak a cloth in hot water. place it in a cup and hold it over your affected ear. The heat provided by the steam will help loosen your hardened wax. A hot compress using hot bags is also a good idea, and will be similarly useful in softening the ear wax. Additionally, this procedure will also help your ear pain reduce and calm down.
Avoid using ‘ear candles’ as they are not yet proven to be effective in removing ear wax. On the contrary, there are cases in which the use of ‘ear candles’ have proven to be quite harmful for your ears, as it damages the internal parts of the ear.
Last but not the least, you must always seek professional advice and help before in serious cases such as having the sensation of fullness in the ears, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, bleeding or ear pain. Never ignore your problems or try to find out solutions by yourself. Especially in case of hearing problems, if you delay in getting a proper hearing loss treatment, it will grow more serious and bring about other complications.
Long term exposure to cold weather can increase the chances of ear infections. It is because the cold weather affects blood pressure (which is generally higher during the winter) and blood circulation, hence causing a decrease in the circulation in the ear. The reason behind this is - due to the temperature drops the blood vessels narrows down, thus increasing the blood pressure, because more pressure is required to force the blood through these narrowed arteries and veins. This further affects the overall blood circulation, including that in and around the ears. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic ear infections is a main cause of hearing loss. So to prevent ear infections due to the cold weather, safeguard your ears and make sure to wear hats, ear muffs and other gears or garments to keep your ears warm.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Another enemy of yours during the winter season is sensorineural hearing loss which is often mistaken with common cold - because of the increased rate of infections resulting in temporary ear blockages during the colder months. It is because during the wintertime when temperatures remain low, blood circulation in the body decreases, which makes the person more prone to infections. So always consult a licensed Audiologist if your hearing problems and/or tinnitus persists for quite a lot of days.
Sensorineural hearing loss is a condition in which a person faces hearing loss, due to a damage in the inner hair cells and/or cochlea of the inner ear - which are mainly responsible for converting the sound signals received from the outer and middle ear into electrical impulses which are then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. Unfortunately, once these sensitive hair cells of the cochlea are damaged, they can never be restored again, nor can there be a growth of new ones. Therefore, this type of hearing loss is permanent in nature and is irreversible.
In case of severe to profound sensorineural deafness, Audiologists recommend undergoing a cochlear implantation surgery as it provides the best solution and the best hearing experience. This type of hearing loss can either be caused as a result of overexposure of sudden exposure to high decibels of sounds for a prolonged period of time, or due to hereditary reasons, or certain infections or diseases.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss in Winter?
It is always better to go for preventive measures than having no other option left but to go for a hearing loss treatment procedure. So follow these below mentioned simple steps to protect your ears from the chilling winds, and prevent yourself from developing hearing loss and facing its devastating effects -
Wear protective devices or garments like earplugs or ear muffs while going for trips or participating in water or other sports especially performed during the winter, such as snowboarding or skiing, or even swimming, or while surfing if you are a surfer or a sailor, or even while taking part in indoor activities where you would be exposed to loud decibels of sounds.
Go for earmuffs or caps which would be having sweat wicking capabilities to prevent moisture from building-up inside the ear. Moisture is especially harmful for hearing aids, so this is a must tip for all hearing aid users.
Make sure that you keep your hearing aids clean and dry all the time. Clean them regularly, and ensure that your batteries are kept dry. Also, remove your batteries at night when you are not using your hearing aids.
If you are sick, especially if you are affected by cough and cold, avoid travelling via air, as your inner ears might not be able to equalize the sudden change in pressure properly due to the blockage in the Eustachian tube due to the cold, thus increasing the chances of eardrum ruptures and hearing loss.
So take proper precautions and have a safe and soothing winter!
Relation Between Hearing Aids and Winter
Yes, winter is not going to be very soothing or easy-going on your hearing aids, and if you are a hearing aid user, then it is that time of the year which would demand your extra care and attention when it comes to protecting your hearing aid devices from the cold temperatures and your increased exposure to moisture. But how to do so? Yes we are here to answer all your questions. Let’s go.
How Can Cold Temperatures Affect My Hearing Aids?
If you are an inhabitant of a place which is becomes icy cold during winter and temperature drops are really very ‘bone chilling’, then your hearing aids need to be protected against these low temperatures. Although it is most likely that you won’t be overexposed to really cold temperatures for long, as you would be travelling in your car of other transportation, from your warm and cosy home and would be going to another heated building, such as school, college or office. So you won’t be exposed to the brutal temperatures for a very long period of time. Even if you are a person who loves snowboarding, or skiing, it’s not the cold temperature that you should be worrying about - rather it is the condensation which occurs when you come indoors from the cold and chilling winds. This condensation causes moisture to develop which is the biggest enemy of your hearing aids. Just as the moisture is harmful for your hearing aid, it is much more harmful to its batteries, which if they come in contact with moisture, will corrode contacts or damage the seal. This reduces the shelf life of the the batteries and hence, the longevity of the hearing aid device. Hence it is always advised to store your hearing aids at room temperatures, preferably between 68 °F to 78 °F, at moderate humidity levels.
But the question arises, ‘How to know whether my device is being ruined by moisture’. Let’s have a look.
Signs that Moisture is Destroying Your Hearing Aid
Unless you have bought a water-resistant hearing aid, your device is bound to be affected by moisture build-ups due to the exposures to the cold temperatures. It doesn’t matter whether it is a result of humidity, condensation, perspiration or even accidental drops or immersions of your device in the sink or water - when your (non water-resistant) hearing aid comes in contact with water, it is definitely going to be affected, either partially or completely.
Even if you don’t realise or feel the effects now, in the long run you are definitely going to, as its longevity is likely to reduce. Moisture or water can not only ruin the delicate parts of the device, such as the microphone, the receiver, it can also destroy the batteries. Moreover, if the earmold tubing comes in contact with water or moisture, it is likely to get clogged, thus preventing sound signals from entering into your ear canal, and hence hampering your listening experience.
Here are certain signs that your hearing aid device have been damaged by moisture -
Your hearing aids suddenly stops working if exposed to loud noises. It is almost like the breaking of a tape recorder!
Your hearing aid suddenly stops working, and then suddenly starts working again, thus affecting your seamless hearing experience.
Sounds seem distorted or fade.
Sounds appear unclear, and difficult for you to understand.
Your device generates static noise, especially at the end of sounds.
Sounds fluctuate, with very good hearing experience at one time, and quite a bad experience at another.
Sounds seem cracking or breaking, especially while trying to understand speech.
If you face any of these problems, switch off your device and remove the batteries. Often there are cases in which the above problems are faced when the person is using weak or old batteries, or improperly fitted ones. So try replacing your batteries with fresh ones, and fitting them properly might help. Also, make sure that the batteries are clean and dry.
But still if the above problems persist, then try following these tips -
Buy a dehumidifier or a hearing aid dry kit and follow the directions given in the product literatures.
You may put the hearing aid near a table lamp, but not too close to the light bulb. Lamp will act as a source of heat that will help the internal parts of your hearing aids dry faster but not be very harmful for it.
You can also put your device on a newspaper to let it air-dry for at least 24 hours.
It will be a good idea if you put your device in a plastic bag containing a cup of uncooked rice or silica gel and set it overnight. They act as dehumidifiers and will dry the device faster by soaking up any water present inside it.
You can use a fan or hair dryer set at a very low setting for drying the internal parts of the hearing aid. Please note that you must never use direct or high heat for hearing aid drying purposes.
However, if your hearing aid still fails to work, then contact your service provider immediately.
How to Protect Your Device?
Although the following protection tips are applicable for anytime throughout the year, yet you must be extra carefully especially in the winter. Let’s go through them -
Perform listening checks regularly with the help of a listening tube which if not provided with your device, you can easily get one from your hearing aid dealer or your Audiologist. Make sure that the sound is not cracked or broken, and is clear enough.
Check batteries regularly and see whether they are at full strength and are strong enough. Replace old or weak batteries immediately as they produce toxic chemicals harmful for your device.
Open the battery compartment. When not in use, keep your batteries out of your device and store them in a proper box provided with your hearing aid at room temperatures. Also, keep your battery compartment open overnight, that is when you are not using your device, to let it dry and make moisture to escape. Also, it will prevent your batteries to drain out quickly by increasing its shelf life.
Make sure that your hearing aid is properly fitted inside your ear canal, so as to avoid annoying feedback sounds, which are produced when the sound is bounced back after colliding with the walls of the ear canal. Feedback sounds are also produced if your earmold is smaller than your ear canal - in which case it requires replacement, or if you have the tendency to produce too much earwax, which are accumulated in the ear canal.
Make it a point to clean your hearing aids regularly with a soft and dry cloth, to keep it free from any moisture or impurities.
If you go out in this harsh winter wind, then make sure to wear caps, headbands or earmuffs that fully cover your ears and protect your hearing aids. Additionally it will serve as a dual purpose of protecting your general health and save you from catching cough and cold or other infections, apart from protecting your hearing aid.
Use sweatbands if you sweat too much or participate in heavy outdoor activities, or if you are a sportsperson.
However, apart from these, make it a point to visit your Audiologist regularly. Because your hearing needs change! Also, your audiologist will reprogramme your device from time to time so as to make it perform better and keep going for many more years. This is a must in every hearing loss treatment programme, so take every little aspect seriously. Hearing aid is a device you will have to live with for the rest of your life, so the more you take care of it, the more benefits will you get from it. Just as you expect good performance from your hearing aid for years together, it expects a little care and maintenance from you as well in return.
So while packing your bags and before getting started for a wintertime trip, make sure to carry your winter caps and earmuffs, and most importantly an excess of hearing aid batteries (if you are a hearing aid user). So get set go and enjoy your trip!
Are you aware of some other connections between the winter season and hearing health? Let us know in the comment section down below.