Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Last updated December 1, 2020
Cold wintry weather can cause hearing aid damage if proper precautions aren't taken. While often hearing aids can be repaired, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here's some information on how cold weather and moisture can damage hearing aids, what to be aware of and how you can prevent weather damage. Also, find out about tinnitus and winter weather, and why clogged ears are more common in cold weather.
Hearing aids, cold weather and moisture
Moisture and condensation can quickly damage hearing aids.
Temperature extremes can be damaging to a hearing aid and its batteries. The cold itself is not necessarily damaging, but the condensation that occurs due to temperature change can damage internal components. Even when it isn't snowing or raining, moisture is present because extreme temperature changes are common in the winter.
For example, if you are walking outside and the temperature is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you will almost certainly be bundled up from head to toe with a hat over your ears. But when you head indoors, it could be nearly 50 degrees warmer because the heat is on. Even if you take off your coat and other winter gear right away, the temperature change can form condensation on your hearing aids. And maybe you were walking quickly and your head began to sweat, which could also damage your hearing aids and batteries.
Signs of moisture damage
Moisture can ruin the microphone and receiver of your hearing aids, as well as clog the earmold tubing and sound and cause corrosion. Here are some tell-tale signs that your hearing aids have been damaged:
Hearing aid fixes
If you think your hearing aids have been exposed to moisture, there are other things to check first. Such as:
If none of these things seem to be the issue, you may have moisture in your hearing aid. If you wear behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids, look in the tubing for moisture droplets. If you wear earmolds, you can purchase an earmold puffer, which blows out any moisture, and consider having your earmolds fitted with a moisture dispersing tube.
For in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids, it's a little trickier to remove the moisture. If you don't already have one, purchase a hearing aid drying device and place your hearing aids in it immediately to hopefully dry them out and avoid damage. Not sure what kind of hearing aid you have? Check out our primer on hearing aid types and styles.
Precautions for cold weather and hearing aids
While moisture is hard to avoid in extreme cold, there are some precautions you can take in an attempt to keep your hearing aids dry and safe.
Protect with earmuffs
Earmuffs aren't only for keeping your ears warm while you're skating on the neighborhood pond or ice fishing with your favorite nephew. Specialized earmuffs are available specifically for protecting your ears from damaging noise. Even if you already have hearing loss, further damage from noise is almost completely preventable by simply limiting your exposure. Noise-reduction earmuffs are not just for winter. In fact, they will come in handy many times throughout the year. Whether you're using your noisy lawnmower in the spring, enjoying a fireworks show in the summer and taking in a football game in a noisy arena, earmuffs will keep the noise level safe. Depending upon the style you choose, expect to pay anywhere from $10 on up for earmuffs that reduce noise by as much as 30 dB.
Buy a pair of sweatbands
Some active hearing aid wearers continue to work up a sweat outdoors while enjoying winter sports. You may also get caught outside during periods of heavy snow or freezing rain. To minimize the amount of moisture your behind-the-ear hearing aids are exposed to as a result of perspiration—or precipitation—during the winter months, invest in hearing aid sweatbands. These accessories are available in a variety of colors and sizes, with an average price of $20 per pair. Most of them are washable and slip on easily, acting as a moisture repellant and providing a windscreen for your microphone. If your hearing healthcare provider doesn't sell them, you can find them easily online.
Other wise ideas:
Ear protection for winter
Ears hurt from cold weather? Don't risk exostosis!
It turns out earmuffs, hats, and scarves are not just fashion accessories. Always keep your ears covered in very cold weather to reduce discomfort and the risk of frostbite.
In fact, excessive exposure to extreme cold and wet conditions can lead to a rare condition known as exostosis. Also known as “surfer’s ear” due to the condition being especially prevalent in those who spend time in or around cold water, exostosis results when exposure to the cold causes abnormal bone growths to appear on the bone surrounding the ear canal. As a result, the ear canal can become blocked, which increases the risk of infection due to trapped fluid. While the condition can be corrected surgically, avid skiers, snowmobilers or snowshoers should make sure to keep their ears warm, dry and covered to reduce their risk.
Also known as “surfer’s ear” due to the condition being prevalent in those who spend time in or around cold water, exostosis results when exposure to the cold causes knobs of bony growth to appear on the bone surrounding the ear canal.
Can cold weather cause ringing in the ears?
Tinnitus and winter
For some people, cold, wintry weather triggers their tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Research shows that internet search terms for tinnitus go up in the winter! Exactly why tinnitus is more common in winter, though, isn't well understood. It's thought to be less about the frosty temperatures affecting our ears, and more about seasonal trends, such as more cold and flu infections (which can increase pressure in the ear), unhealthy activities that can lead to high blood pressure (such as eating lots of salty foods), and increased rates of depression and stress. All of these things are known risk factors for tinnitus.
Cold weather and clogged ears
Changes in barometric pressure can leave your ears feeling clogged any time of year. Add in a seasonal respiratory infection swelling up your sinuses and you can feel downright miserable. Read more about the causes of clogged ears.
Why ear infections are more common in winter
During the winter, your ears are often colder, which means reduced circulation to provide a healthy blood supply. Meanwhile, viruses and bacterial infections are a lot more common in the winter. Put these together, and you have a heightened risk sinus infections and a painful condition known as otitis media.
Otitis media, or an ear infection, causes painful swelling and inflammation of the middle ear. The swelling and infection can build up and increase the pressure behind the ear drum and block drainage from the Eustachian tube. Antibiotics can treat most ear infections, but until the fluid is cleared, temporary hearing loss can result. Be sure to treat colds and flu immediately with rest, medication and plenty of fluids, and if you suspect an ear infection see a doctor immediately to prevent hearing damage. Your doctor may prescribe medication and/or nasal sprays to help you get some relief.
You can reduce your risk of ear infections by keeping your ears warm and dry when you are outside in winter weather. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising to improve blood circulation can also be helpful, especially in the colder months when resistance to infection is lower. Whatever you do, don't put a cotton swab in your ear, as it can push hardened earwax further back into the ear.
If you are planning on flying to your holiday travel destination, be careful not to fly if you are ears are persistently clogged. A ruptured eardrum or severe infection can result, leading to temporary hearing loss and other problems. It is better to reschedule your flight if possible to prevent further problems. More: Airplanes and ear pain: Why it happens and what you can do.
Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Joy Victory has extensive experience editing consumer health information. Her training in particular has focused on how to best communicate evidence-based medical guidelines and clinical trial results to the public. She strives to make health content accurate, accessible and engaging to the public. Read more about Joy.