With winter fast approaching, now is a good time to think about protecting your ears from cold weather. As our ears are made mostly of cartilage, with very little insulating fat, they can become cold very easily. Additionally, cold weather can irritate sensitive tissue in the ear canals, thus making earaches more common. Prioritizing your ear health is important, especially if you have to work in a cold environment for extended periods of time.
Here are some reasons why you might experience ear pain in cold weather:
Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the upper throat and back of the nose, prevent a buildup of fluid in the middle ear and also prevent abnormal changes in air pressure within the ear. However, if you have a cold or head congestion, fluid and mucus from your nose can block the eustachian tube, causing discomfort or pain. Though these issues usually will improve as your cold goes away, there are times when it can lead to secondary ear infections.
One of the most common complications of the common cold is a middle ear infection, also known as otitis media. When viruses or bacteria in your throat and nose enter your ear through the eustachian tube, they can cause fluid buildup in the middle ear. These infectious particles can multiply in this accumulated fluid, resulting in a middle ear infection.
In addition to ear pain, otitis media can cause:
Persistent cold can cause a sinus infection, also known as infectious sinusitis, characterized by inflammation in the sinuses.
If you have sinusitis, you may experience ear pressure, earache, and other symptoms such as:
Spending time outdoors in the cold without wearing any ear protection can lead to hearing loss. If your ears are constantly exposed to low temperatures, you may develop bony growths in the ear canals. This bone growth, also known as exostosis, or “surfer's ear”, can damage your ear health and hearing. Exostoses constrict the ear canal, making it difficult to drain water, ear wax, and dirt, which can lead to ear infections and even permanent hearing loss.
Here are some ways in which you can prevent earaches during winter:
A mild, temporary earache can often be addressed with watchful waiting. There also are over-the-counter medications, such as ear drops, which can be helpful in certain situations. Any earache which lasts longer than a day, or which is more than mildly uncomfortable, should be addressed by a medical doctor.
Wearing appropriate and warm clothing can go a long way toward protecting sensitive ears from winter chills. Ear muffs, a hat which covers the ears, or a jacket collar turned up can all help to protect your ears from the cold.
Ear pain in winter is a common occurrence which often aggravates existing ear conditions like tinnitus. While the above suggestions may help prevent or relieve earaches, if discomfort is persistent or severe, make sure to see a doctor before the condition worsens.
Schedule an appointment with Dr. Chris Hoffmann to get your hearing tested.