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It’s cold out there! Your parents always told you to wear a hat in the winter to keep warm, but did you know that it wasn’t just to keep your little ears from freezing off? Sure, hats, earmuffs, and headbands keep your ears and head toasty warm, but keeping your ears protected in cold weather can also keep them free of extra moisture and potential hearing loss.

Have you ever wondered why your ears and your nose are among the first things on your body to get cold? It’s because they don’t contain fat to keep you warm; they’re mainly cartilage. When temperatures start lowering, your body begins to conserve heat and send it to your internal organs. That leaves your nose, ears, fingers, and toes lacking their usual blood flow. You’d be surprised at the temperature this begins happening at—it’s just 59°F. For many of us, that’s still flip flop weather!

When your ears get cold, sometimes they try to protect themselves by growing extra bones in the ear canal—called bone spurs. As you can imagine, this doesn’t feel particularly good. Untreated, it can lead to a long list of other problems (including ear infections, tinnitus, and even hearing loss). If you get bone spurs in your ears, they will have to be surgically removed.

Cold weather can also cause wax in the ears to harden, which may lead to blockages. If you wear hearing aids, the extra moisture in the cold air can lead to condensation in your hearing aids. To prevent water damage, take out the batteries at night and use a dry aid kit. You may also want to keep a spare pair of batteries with you during the winter months.

Keep your ears warm and protected from the wind and cold by wearing a hat that fits well and fully covers your ears. If it’s especially cold out, you may even wear a headband under your hat for extra protection. You may even choose to wear ear plugs.