Summertime is for barbecues, pool parties, yardwork, and trips abroad. Protecting your hearing health may not be the first thing on our minds as we spring into summer, but you will be thankful in the long run if you take some simple steps to protect your ears during this eventful season. Noise-induced hearing loss, swimmer’s ear, and “popped” ears are a few conditions which can cause discomfort, infection, or, in some cases, hearing loss.
So, what can you do to protect your ears this summer? Read on to learn more.
For the traveler: Equalize air pressure within your ears during takeoff and landing
When the plane takes off to our vacation destination, we have our whole vacation ahead of us, full of new places and cultures to discover. But the takeoff (and landing) of the airplane can be physically uncomfortable due to the air pressure changes in the airplane cabin. As the plane takes off, many people often experience discomfort along with a “popping” sensation in their ears, which is caused by air escaping the middle ear. To equalize air pressure, it can be helpful to swallow, chew, or yawn.
While these methods are usually enough to equalize the pressure, those suffering from ear, nose, or sinus infections may have more difficulty equalizing the pressure. An inability to release the pressure can cause pain and discomfort which can continue for hours after landing. If you are severely congested, using decongestant nasal drops before takeoff and landing is one way to alleviate the discomfort. If you still have a popping sensation in your ears when the plane lands, you can try “pushing” the air out by pinching your nose, closing your mouth and lightly “pushing” the air out through the ears1.
For the concert goer: Invest in noise-reducing earplugs for loud outdoor events
Did you know that the sound levels at concerts reach a range of between 95 to 115 decibels? Hearing loss can be caused by just 85 decibels or higher, so wearing earplugs at a concert is a safe bet for ensuring that your ears are protected. You should be especially careful if you are near the loudspeakers close to the stage. For this reason, musicians typically wear earplugs too!
Concerts are not the only summer activities which produce sounds above 85 decibels. Motorcycles and sporting events can both reach up to 110 dB. Even lawnmowers can reach 100 dB, and firework shows reach the highest level with a range reaching 160 dB2. When finding earplugs for these activities, be sure to do some research and find a pair which makes sense for your needs. Since you will probably still want to be able to hear the score of the game or your favorite song, look for earplugs which lower the sound level without blocking out the sound completely. A popular style of earplugs made for this purpose are “high fidelity” earplugs. High fidelity earplugs preserve the original sound quality while lowering the sound level3.
For the swimmer: Protect yourself from swimmer’s ear
Summer is a special season for those who love to spend time in the water, whether it be at the pool, beach, or lake. If you’re a water lover, you’ll especially enjoy all the opportunities to be by the water this summer. However, increased exposure to water also increases the likelihood of developing an ear condition called “swimmer’s ear”. Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. It is typically caused by excess moisture in the ear, which creates an ideal environment for bacterial growth. Other risk factors for swimmer’s ear include: swimming in water with elevated bacteria levels, a narrow ear canal, aggressive cleaning with cotton swabs, and skin allergies.
In order to prevent swimmer’s ear from developing, try to dry your ears thoroughly after swimming. This can be done by tipping your head to each side to help the water drain out of your ear canal. A rule of thumb is to avoid using cotton swabs in your ear as these typically just push any bacteria further into your ear4.
You can enjoy your summer activities while still protecting your ears against infection or pain. Take simple precautions such as equalizing air pressure on flights, wearing earplugs during loud outdoor activities, and drying your ears thoroughly after a full day of swimming. Your ears will be better for it, and you will skip the discomfort that comes with ear pain and infections, as well as minimize your risk of developing hearing loss.