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February 12th, 2019

Winter Maintenance: Caring for your Ears and Hearing Aids

By Serena Ransom

It is important to care for your hearing aids all year round to ensure they are in good working condition. In Canada, we experience long cold winter seasons that can wreak havoc on both our ears and our hearing aids. It is important to take extra precautions to ensure you protect your ears as well as your hearing aids in the winter. This article will discuss how you can make the most of your hearing this season!

Winter Moisture and Hearing Aids

Does the cold affect hearing aids? The short answer is no, while the cold itself does not affect hearing aids, moisture can affect hearing aids. According to Starkey a popular hearing aid manufacturer, hearing aids have been tested in extreme cold temperatures and findings suggest the components of the hearing aids are resistant to the extreme cold. That being said, what does affect hearing aids is the moisture that is associated with winter.

Moisture can get into the hearing aids in three ways: condensation, sweat, and snow. The constant change in temperature that we experience in the winter going from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors causes condensation. This quick change in temperature which happens may times a day can cause a rapid build up of moisture. Think of it like your glasses - every time you change temperature drastically, your glasses form a layer of condensation resulting in moisture. Hearing aids are similar to glasses in this sense, however, hearing aids have many more compartments where moisture can become trapped. Another way moisture can enter the hearing aids is through sweating which comes with winter activities. Lastly, heavy snow can also cause a build up of moisture in the hearing aids. This can cause a build-up of moisture or corrosion of the parts of the hearing aids which can cause them to stop working or to not work as well.

How can you protect your hearing aids from moisture in the winter? While many behind-the-ear hearing aids are water-resistant IP68 rated, they are still not considered water-proof. For this reason, it is important to take extra precautions during the winter months. To prevent snow from getting into the hearing aids when venturing out, always try to wear a hat, earmuffs, or a headband to directly cover the hearing aids and protect them from the harsh conditions. When doing vigorous winter activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, or hiking, we advise hearing aids should not be worn if possible due to excessive sweating. When entering a warm indoor setting after being outside in the cold, hearing aids should be removed and the battery door opened to minimize condensation and prevent moisture from being trapped. We also recommend extra cleaning for hearing aids in the winter to prevent moisture build-up. Each night, remove the hearing aid battery, wipe the entire hearing aid, check for wax, inspect for cracks, and change the filter if necessary. Hearing aids should be placed in a dryer or a sealed jar of rice overnight. Hearing aid dryers are usually very inexpensive and can help maximize the life of your hearing aid. If you do not have a hearing aid dryer, contact our office to get yours!

What are some common signs of moisture in hearing aids? Some common signs of moisture in the hearing aids include: cutting in and out, sound fading and coming back on, static, distortion, and very low volume. If you suspect moisture in your hearing aids, stop by our offices for a no-charge cleaning and inspection. Most moisture-related issues can be fixed in clinic and if your hearing aid needs to be sent out for repairs, hearing aid warranties cover moisture damage.

Storing Batteries in the Winter

Just as hearing aids can be affected by winter moisture, so can batteries. Hearing aid batteries work by allowing zinc and air to react to provide power. This reaction can be affected by moisture and temperature. Thus, batteries should always be kept dry and stored at room temperature to maximize the lifespan. We recommend wiping batteries down with a cloth each night to prevent moisture build-up. You can also purchase a battery tester to check the status of your batteries. If you are not getting the expected amount of battery life, consult your hearing professional. For more information on batteries, check out our blog article on maximizing your battery life.

Protecting your Ears in the Winter

During the winter season, we see an increasing amount of patients due to ear discomfort, pressure, and itchiness. When the pressure changes outside, so does the pressure in our ears. If the atmospheric pressure changes rapidly, this can lead to irregularities in the pressure in our ears. This is why it is important to protect your ears from the cold by covering them with a hat or earmuffs. Winter is also associated with allergies and cold season which can result in middle ear infections. Infections can affect our ability to hear and can lead to a sensation of fullness, pain, or feeling like the ear is popping. Often these infections can go away with time however medical intervention may be required. If you suspect you may have an ear infection, contact your physician for more information.

Another common issue we see in the winter is patients complaining of itchy or plugged ears. Itchiness is caused by a lack of earwax and a plugged feeling is caused by too much earwax. In the winter, we usually see one of the two extremes. As the skin becomes dry and flakey in the winter, so can the ears. This can result in dry itchy ears with little to no wax. To the same extent, the ears may overproduce wax in the winter. This is especially seen in patients who participate in winter activities that induce sweating which can lead to more wax production. Wax is produced to protect the ear from dirt, sweat, and foreign objects however, when produced in large quantities, it can plug the ear. An ear that is completely plugged with wax can result in a reduction in sound of up to 40%! Winter weather also causes this wax to become dry and hardened which can worsen the effects. In both cases of itchy and plugged ears, we recommend using oil (olive oil, coconut oil, mineral oil, etc). For itchy ears, oil helps to lubricate the ears and acts as a moisturizer to soften dry skin. For hardened wax, oil helps to soften the wax so it can be removed easier. Sometimes the wax will come out on its own, and other times it may not. If you believe you have a wax build-up, stop by our clinic for an assessment and cleaning by our certified practitioner.

Individuals with hearing loss are more susceptible to damage caused by loud noises. It is important to keep this in mind in the winter as most snow blowers exceed 100 dB which can be very damaging to the ears. When operating loud equipment, always ensure you protect your ears by wearing in-ear plugs or protective over-ear muffs. For customized hearing protection, consult a hearing professional.

For more information on protecting your ears and caring for your hearing aids, contact your hearing professional. Be safe and stay warm this winter!