The advent of the winter season brings with it a whole host of excitement. The colder days, longer nights, and the start of the festive season keep us going even if we think of snow as more of a nuisance than a source of joy. That being said, while many of us are aware of the dangers of a winter storm, we often neglect the toll that a long winter season can take on our hearing health. Here are some tips to help keep you hearing well throughout the colder months:
- Protect your ears! If you live somewhere that experiences a lot of snowfall, chances are good that you own a snow blower. While these nifty machines save us the time and energy of having to shovel out our snow-covered driveways, they can wreak havoc on our hearing health. The average snow blower exceeds 100 dB of noise output, which is more than loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. The best way to protect our ears when operating heavy machinery is to wear a set of custom-molded earplugs, protective ear covers, or a pair of foam earplugs. If you use hearing aids, it might be best to leave them inside while plowing your driveway, so that they aren’t exposed to any unnecessary moisture as you work.
- Avoid slips and falls. The cold of the winter season often brings plenty of snow and ice. Even if you’re young and agile, a slip on black ice can cause some serious injury. Unfortunately, people with hearing loss are significantly more likely to experience trips and falls than people without hearing loss. Although researchers haven’t fully determined why this is so, it is possible that vestibular and balance systems in the ear might be negatively impacted by hearing loss. Thus, it is particularly important that people with hearing loss take extra caution in icy spots to avoid unwanted slips and dangerous falls.
- Be wary of ear infections. It turns out that both children and adults are at a much higher risk of ear infection during the cold winter months. Due to the cold weather, less blood circulates within the ears, which, when combined with a greater risk of irritation and trapped moisture, creates the perfect conditions for an ear infection. Although ear infections can usually be treated by antibiotics, it’s best to avoid them altogether. We can reduce our risk of wintertime ear infections by keeping our ears warm and dry while outside and by maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise to improve our blood circulation.
- Keep your ears warm. While many of us are aware of the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia, most people don’t realize that repeated exposure to excessive cold can cause a condition known as ‘surfer’s ear’ or exostosis. People who are repeatedly exposed to cold and wet conditions can experience a bony growth on the bone surrounding the ear canal. As a result of this bony protrusion, the ear canal can become blocked, which further increases the risk of ear infection as fluids can easily become trapped in the canal. Skiers, snowmobilers, and winter adventurers are at risk of the condition, which can be surgically corrected but is best avoided by keeping one’ ears warm and dry.
At the end of the day, the cold conditions typical of wintertime can cause some serious damage to our hearing health. Keeping our ears warm, dry, and protected from excessive noise are just some of the initial precautions we can take to maintain our hearing throughout the winter months.