The winter months can be long and cold. But don't let your hearing health suffer. Moisture buildup and middle ear infections are usually more prevalent in cold weather, and the hardware and performance of hearing aids can often be impaired when exposed to water and wind. So, what can you do?
1. Come up with a plan. These preventative measures can save you from problems down the road:
- Clean or suction debris from any exposed areas on your aid, and double check the receiver, battery contacts, and microphone ports.
- Properly remove any earwax from your ear canal.
- Purchase an auditory training program from your audiologist to keep up with your hearing-cognition regimen.
2. Keep your hearing aids dry. Consider getting a dehumidifier, which is a specialized drying canister for hearing aids. Store your hearing device in this canister overnight with the batteries taken out and the battery doors left open. If you don't have a dehumidifier, remember to regularly remove your hearing aid batteries and clean everything with a dry cloth.
If your hearing aids get wet, note these emergency tips:
- Immediately wipe them dry, remove the ear mold if your aid has one, and take out the batteries.
- Dry the battery compartment using a Q-tip or a safe cleaning tool.
- Place your hearing aids in a dehumidifier or Ziploc bag with silica gel packets.
- Let your devices sit for 24 hours.
3. Keep your ears dry. Water is the number one culprit for ear infections, which, if left untreated, can cause inflammation and temporary hearing loss. Cases of extreme cold can also aggravate certain preexisting conditions like exostosis (www.hear-it.org, 2011).
If water gets trapped in your ear:
- Do not use Q-tips.
- Use swimmer's ear drops to help clear any trapped water.
- See your physician if you experience any ongoing pain, pressure, or popping.
4. Socialize. Try not to isolate yourself for more than one or two consecutive days. Even if you don't feel like leaving the warm comfort of your home, consider going to dinner or movies with friends or visiting your local library. If you're snowed in, do not sit in the quiet for too long. Listen to the radio or TV, or try an auditory training program. The more you practice hearing speech in noise and the more conversations you have in different environments, the easier it is to maintain your cognitive and hearing health benchmarks.
5. Prepare for travel. If you're planning for a winter getaway, prepare a hearing aid travel checklist. Include items like extra batteries (more than you think you'll need), cleaning tools, and backup devices (if you have them). Check out this handout (http://bit.ly/2I8Unuh) for tips on traveling with hearing loss. For accessibility information when traveling within the United States, visit www.transportation.gov.
6. Wear outdoor gear to protect your ears and prevent water damage of your device. When exercising outdoors or playing winter sports, wear wrist and forehead sweatbands to help intercept moisture. Use gears that fit over your hearing device and earmuffs to help safeguard your ears and hearing devices against snow and freezing temperatures.
When you're in a noisy area, particularly with loud snow blowers or snowmobiles, wear over-the-ear protection instead of in-the-ear varieties that have a tendency to trap liquid in the ear.
7. Give extra attention to children with hearing loss. In winter months, children are more prone to ear infections, which can exacerbate any existing hearing impairment (pennstatehershey.adam.com, 2016). Be mindful of any middle ear infection symptoms such as irritability, pain, loss of balance, trouble paying attention, or increased hearing difficulty. To help prevent infections and buildup of moisture-related bacteria, clean your child's ear mold with an audiologist-approved cleaning agent.
8. Manage your stress. It's easy for holiday anxiety to be replaced by winter stress, and if you're already struggling with your hearing, that stress can multiply. Though it is important to socialize, also take some time for yourself. Winter won't last forever, so enjoy the world around you.