Can the Cold Affect Your Ears?

February 25th, 2022 | by Hearing Solutions | Hearing Loss
Can the Cold Affect Your Ears?

It’s that time of the year again — freezing temperatures and huddling for warmth to escape the winter cold. It’s that time of the year again when layers are a must for head-to-toe protection. But more than the heavy jackets and coats, gloves, and boots, did you know that you need to be keeping your ears warm, too?

When decked out in winter gear, many of us often overlook the ears, causing them to feel the biting cold of the strong, frigid winds and snowy, icy days. This is why you need winter hats and earmuffs to ensure total protection against the cold and prevent long-term impacts on your hearing health.

How are you keeping your ears warm this winter? Find out how the cold affects your ears and what you can do to protect your hearing health this winter.

Can the cold affect my ears?

The short answer is yes. Like any part of your body, prolonged exposure of the ears to below-zero temperatures can be harmful. This commonly happens when you are outside for extended periods, whether you’re working, on your everyday commute, or playing winter sports and engaging in other seasonal activities. Keeping your ears warm and toasty this season goes a long way in protecting your hearing health from common winter hazards from frostbite to infections.

Your Ears Feel the Cold First

Have you ever wondered why your ears always get cold first — as if they’re on ice — compared to the rest of your body? The fact is, it only takes a couple of minutes for your ears to feel the frigid temperatures. This is because the ears are composed of cartilage, which barely has any layers of insulating fat. Coupled with a lack of protective gear like hats and earmuffs, your ears can easily get cold even just after a few minutes outdoors.

Beyond the Outer Ear

Did you know that the harmful cold extends to the inner ear? That’s right — the inside of your ears can get cold and painful, too, after prolonged exposure to sub-zero temps. This happens when the ears are not properly protected, causing the nerves in the ear canal to react with a strong pain impulse. The pain inside your ears can also be exacerbated by blood circulation that slows down in the cold.

How the Cold Affects Your Hearing Health

Can the winter cold cause hearing loss?

While not exactly a common winter injury, frequent and prolonged exposure to freezing conditions can impact hearing health, resulting in hearing loss. The lack of proper ear protection and attention to hearing health can increase bone growth in the ear canal, a condition known as exostosis. Often called surfer’s ear, exostosis occurs as the ear canal attempts to block the cold.

Exostosis begins as a bodily response to protect your ears. As cold air or water inflame the muscles and blood vessels inside your ear, increased blood flow leads to abnormal bone growth. As that bone growth intensifies, it constricts the ear canal, preventing water, dirt, and wax from draining. Over time, this can cause prolonged or repeated ear infections, leading to serious hearing health consequences — ultimately, permanent hearing loss. While exostosis can be surgically removed, recovery requires time away from cold weather and water.

Increased Risk of Ear Infection

Another wintertime risk to hearing health is an ear infection. As the cold brings flu season, it’s often accompanied by ear pain, leading to infections. This occurs due to bacteria trapped inside the ear, causing the ear canal to swell, preventing sound waves from reaching the inner ear, ultimately reducing hearing abilities. While ear pain and reduced hearing are expected to clear up along with your cold or flu symptoms, it’s important to get ear infections checked out and treated with antibiotics.

Hardened Earwax

Just as winter temperatures can cause dry skin, they can also harden ear wax. A buildup of hardened earwax blocks sound waves from reaching the inner ear, reducing hearing. Hardened earwax can also exacerbate earaches and headaches but will likely clear up once temperatures start rising again.

While hardened earwax barely affects people with normal, healthy hearing, those already suffering from mild to severe hearing loss will experience increased difficulties. Hearing aids are programmed for a particular level of hearing loss — not accounting for the effects of earwax buildup. Though this worsened hearing loss is temporary, it can cause added discomfort, disruption and impact quality of life. 

Removing this earwax buildup and getting your ears cleaned by a hearing healthcare professional can restore normal hearing ability and help hearing aid wearers maximize the use of their hearing devices.

Protect Your Hearing Health This Winter

As you brace for the cold and gear up to go out in sub-zero temps, remember to bundle up — and don’t forget about your ears. This winter, staying healthy and safe includes protecting your hearing health from cold weather hazards.

To start, never step out in cold weather without proper ear protection. Whether it’s earmuffs or a hat that covers the ears, this keeps your ears warm and reduces the risk of abnormal bone growth, infection, and worsening hearing loss. But don’t just cover up your ears with the same winter apparel, either. Make sure to switch out your hats or earmuffs to prevent moisture build-up and bacteria exposure.

Protect your hearing health from cold weather effects and occupational-induced hearing loss for those on the job or playing outdoor sports . Keep your ears warm and protected from loud noises with earmuffs

Finally, if you are using hearing aids, have extra batteries handy, as colder temperatures are known to shorten battery life. Similarly, consider using an electric dehumidifier or stay-dry container to prevent condensation from forming and damaging the internal components of your hearing aids.

To learn more about protecting your ears this winter and ensuring better hearing health, call Hearing Solutions at 1-888-811-9979 or contact us here.


Hear us out! why you need to keep your ears warm this winter. (2018, December 26). Retrieved from

Hearing loss due to cold is real. Ears exposed to cold can cause deafness. (2021, May 09). Retrieved from

Isaacson, J., & Vora, N. M. (2003, September 15). Differential Diagnosis and Treatment of Hearing Loss. Retrieved from

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