"Ears are often sensitive to the cold because of a very large network of nerves that provides sensation to the ears. In fact, the ear canals are of the most sensitive parts of the body," says Jason Abramowitz, MD, at New York and New Jersey's ENT and Allergy Associates. And because your ears are already so sensitive, very cold air can be super irritating to them, he says. "[Cold air] can directly reach the ear drum, which is also highly sensitive," he adds. Hello, painful, sore, burning ears.
If it seems like your ears are extra-prone to Jack Frost's mayhem, you're probably right. "People who are more sensitive to the cold than others likely have a different variation of the nerves in the ear canal," the doc explains. Lucky you.
- Jason M. Abramowitz, MD, board-certified otolaryngologist and surgeon based in New Jersey
Your ears are also a source of warmth retention in your body, says Dr. Abramowitz. "When they are exposed to the cold, it can contribute to cooling of the body temperature," he says—meaning that if your ears are cold, the rest of your body will soon be, too. And on top of that, Dr. Abramowitz says that having a cooler body temperature can decrease your blood flow, which can increase the potential for infections like the common cold. So yeah...wear a hat, friend!
If you do happen to forget your ear muffs, though, and it happens to the best of us, Dr. Abromowitz has a quick defrosting trick. "Once in a warm place, it's best to expose the ears to warmth gradually with ambient heat or to apply a warm soaked towel to the affected area," he recommends. Skip anything rash, like holding your ears up to the fireplace or the stovetop. (I mean, duh.)
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