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How to Avoid Earaches in Cold Weather

written by: angiem1981 • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 1/9/2010

Earaches, or otalgia, occurs in people of all ages and has numerous causes. Although this can be a sign of ear infection, being outdoors in the cold can also be responsible. Knowing the symptoms can help differentiate between whether or not there is a legitimate problem.

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    Cold-related Otalgia

    Otalgia, commonly referred to as an earache, can be caused by many different things. Contrary to popular belief, ear pain may not always be caused by illness and/or infection. One of the most common causes of this type of pain can be directly caused by environmental factors. Exposure to cold temperatures is often associated with an earache in many individuals.

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    How Can Cold Exposure Cause an Earache?

    Otalgia from cold exposure is directly caused by physiological changes that take place from a drastic change in temperature. Typically, ear pain is not experienced until the person has returned indoors or to an area of warmer temperature. Heat acts as an expansion tool, while the cold acts as a vasodilator. In simple terms, cold temperatures causes a decrease in size or stricture while heat causes growth. Once the warmer air enters into the ear, it expands, causing pain. However, ear pain caused by cold exposure will typically only last for a few minutes, until the body has had time to adjust.

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    Treatment and/or Prevention

    Otalgia with cold exposure does not usually require a specific treatment. The pain should go away gradually within ten to fifteen minutes. Prevention is the best type of management. Simple measures such as properly covering the ears when going outdoors and limiting exposure to cold temperatures are often sufficient enough. If otalgia persists, then there may be something else causing the problem.

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    When To Call The Physician

    Otalgia caused by exposure to the cold should not typically require any medical intervention. However, when the earache persists or other symptoms are present it is prudent and advisable to seek medical assistance. Drainage from the ear(s), fever, stiffness of the head and neck, and any other unusual symptoms are not associated with this type of otalgia and should be addressed by a physician.

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    References

    Common Illnesses and Injuries: Earaches. 2009. Mercy Children's Hospital. www.mercyweb.org. 2009. Mercy Health Partners. Viewed 20, December 2009. http://mercyweb.org/childrens/conditions/illnesses/illness_t.aspx?id=493&m1=8

    Referred Otalgia: A Structured Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment. Internal Journal of Clinical Practice. Volume 61 Issue 6, Pages 1015-1021. 10, May 2007. Viewed 20, December 2009.http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117980798/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

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