Remember when Mom would chase after you, insisting you put on your hat and scarf before you headed out into the frigid weather? Remember how you would protest, and maybe even leave that hat and scarf behind?
Turns out, Mom was right.
Our bodies lose copious amounts of heat from our heads, which can affect core body temperature, but that’s not the whole story. Failing to keep your ears protected from cold weather can contribute to, or even cause, hearing loss.
Ears, like your nose, are comprised mostly of cartilage, so there is no insulation (fat) to keep them warm when the temperatures drop. You probably figured that out when you were last in the cold: your nose and ears are usually the first body parts to feel the chill.
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Our hands and feet are also susceptible to conditions such as frostbite, but that is usually avoided by wearing gloves, socks, and shoes.
In fact, once the temperature hits 59°F, you need to make sure your ears are protected. In many parts of the country, 59°F is hardly bundle-up weather. But at this temperature, your hypothalamus (a small portion of the brain that is responsible for multiple body functions, including temperature control) begins to conserve heat for your internal organs, moving blood away from your extremities (that means your ears).
Why It’s Important to Keep Your Ears Warm in the Winter
Cold ears are annoying, to be sure, but unprotected ears in cold weather can actually be dangerous. When your ears are exposed to cold, bone spurs, also called exostosis, can result. This happens when excess bone grows in the ear canal to protect the ear. This condition is sometimes called surfer’s ear, since surfers who frequent cold water wear wetsuits, but they do not usually protect their ears.
Excess bone growth can be incredibly painful. When that bone growth occurs in the ear canal, it can lead to a host of other problems. Water, dirt, and bacteria can become trapped in the ear and lead to recurring ear infections. The only treatment for exostosis is surgery.
How Can You Keep Your Ears Protected From the Cold?
- Wear a hat with snug-fitting ear flaps. If wearing a hat is problematic, invest in quality earmuffs.
- Fleece headbands that cover the ears can be worn under a warm hat or beanie for extra protection.
- Commercial ear plugs are helpful, but custom-fitting ear plugs, made by a hearing specialist, can provide better protection.
- If you are just out in the cold for a short time, you can pull your scarf up over your ears or tighten the hood of your jacket. Both of these short-term fixes will help protect your ears from the wind and cold.
For more information on how to protect your ears this winter, contact Premier Urgent Care at (773) 891-2890.
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