Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows that the tips of the ears are one of the first body parts to feel that frigid, wintry blast of air hitting the body. It starts with a little discomfort at the top of the ears and then it goes to redness, and sometimes even pain. We know our outer ear feels the impact of low temperatures, but did you know that our inner ear is also deeply affected by colder air?
Long-term exposure to frigid air is threatening and the human body has many defense mechanisms against potential dangers. For the inner ear, one of those defense mechanisms is exostosis. Exostosis is the formation of a new bone on an existing bone and can occur throughout the body. For our ears in freezing weather, the extra bones are the body’s way of building a barrier against the cold. Exostosis is commonly referred to as surfer’s ear because there is a high prevalence of this condition in cold-water surfers.
The production of extra earwax is another way for the body to create a barrier against a threat. Earwax, or cerumen, is composed of old skin cells, hair, and ear gland secretions. It has three main roles: moisten the skin of the ear, clean and lubricate the ear and protect the ear from foreign objects. As the thermometer drops down, earwax production goes up. Excess earwax production impacts hearing, may cause ringing in the ear and can lead to infections. In sustained cold temperatures, earwax can also harden, causing pain and blockages.
Earwax production is a protective measure, and, like cold weather, a hearing aid is seen as a threat by the body. A hearing aid is a foreign object in the ear and, as we know, the ear’s response is to build a barrier. So, wearing a hearing aid in cold weather often leads to an abnormal amount of earwax. It is a common complaint for hearing aid users, but it is an easily managed one.
Tips For Cleaning Your Ears
- Use over-the-counter ear drops designed to soften ear wax. You can also use olive oil or hydrogen peroxide. Place a few drops in the affected ear and then rest the opposite ear on a pillow for several minutes allowing the drops to enter the ear canal. Clean and dry the ear when you’re finished.
- Remove and clean your hearing aids more often in colder weather. Purchase a hearing aid cleaning kit if you were not given one with your hearing aids. Use a hearing aid dryer to completely dry your hearing aid after cleaning.
- Do NOT attempt to remove earwax with a q-tip or any other object. This may cause the earwax to go further in the ear canal.
- Avoid cleaning the ear too much, since this can cause irritation.
- Seek medical attention if you experience any bleeding, pain or loss of hearing. Your hearing healthcare provider can do an ear irrigation to safely and easily remove earwax blockage.
A little extra home care can help you easily manage earwax and your hearing aids. Call or schedule an appointment to learn more.