Summer is the perfect time of year to spend the entire day outdoors, from morning hikes to afternoon picnics, swimming and sports, to evening bonfires and stargazing. The medical community has made us well aware that, while we’re enjoying these outdoor activities, we also need to take care of our bodies – wearing sunscreen, getting plenty of fluids, replacing electrolytes, watching for ticks and avoiding poison ivy. Hearing health professionals stress that we don’t often think to take some of these same precautious with our ears. The following is a list of ways to consider your ears’ specific summer care needs in addition to the other precautions you’re already taking.

1.    Apply sublock to your ears

Ears are notoriously neglected during sunscreen application. You might have wondered if they can even burn, since they’re composed mostly of cartilage. Anyone whose ears have turned red and peeled for weeks will tell you they can! The skin on your ears receives prime sun exposure along with your face and head; so don’t forget to coat your outer ears with a layer of sunscreen when you’ll be spending more than a few minutes outdoors. Besides the discomfort, sunburns can lead to infections, and infections anywhere near your ears compromise your hearing health.

2.    Apply insect repellant  

Many people also forget their ears when it’s time to apply insect repellant. Even during the day, it’s a good idea to apply insect repellant if you’ll be in wooded, swampy areas. It’s okay to spray insect repellant on other areas of your body, but don’t spray it into your ears. Place a little on your fingers or a tissue and gently wipe the outer ear, being careful to avoid the ear canal. If you wear a hearing aid, remove it or at least carefully avoid it while applying insect spray.

3.    Prevent swimmer’s ear

Water activities present another risk to your ears, especially if they’re clogged with wax and dirt. Warm, bacteria-filled water (even in a chlorinated pool) can get trapped in the middle ear and quickly escalate to an extremely painful infection. Children are particularly prone to swimmer’s ear, so ensure their ears are clean before they jump in the pool or lake. You might be tempted to think earplugs are a good solution, but hearing health professionals discourage their use since they can traumatize the ear canal. Cuts or scrapes can quickly lead to infections, as well. If you wear hearing aids, you’re also more likely to get swimmer’s ear. To reduce the risk, leave them out for a while after swimming to give your ears a chance to drain.

The best part about following these practices for summer ear care is that they’re simple. Without interfering with your enjoyment of your favorite activities, these steps will keep your ears healthy and hearing well.