Our ears might be our most abused body part. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, force cotton swabs inside them, and burn them with ear candling. In spite of supplying us with one of our most critical senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, right until there are problems. After that, we realize just how important healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have learned proper ear care earlier. The secret is to recognize this before the injury is done.
If you desire to avoid problems and preserve your hearing, stay away from these 4 dangerous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of removing earwax, and additionally, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is done. One end of a narrow tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The other end is set on fire, which allegedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks earwax up into the tube.
Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t generate negative pressure. As expressed by Lisa M.L. Dryer, MD, earwax is sticky, so even if negative pressure was created, the pressure needed to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually discovered within the ear candle after the treatment. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the traditional way and burning other candles without inserting them into the ear. The residue was the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also harmful and is firmly opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat), if you require any other reasons not to do it.
2. Using cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve written about this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only forces the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax is made up of beneficial antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally removed by the normal movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have trouble with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing professional.
But don’t take our word for it: just take a look at the back of the packaging of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll find a warning from the producers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to exceedingly loud music
Our ears are just not equipped to manage the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to create. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to produce permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An ordinary conversation registers at about 60, while a rock concert registers at over 100. But here’s the thing about the decibel scale: it’s logarithmic, not linear. Which means the jump from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
In the same way, many earbuds can create a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s no great surprise then that this can produce irreparable harm.
If you want to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (and on the job if necessary) and keep your portable music player volume at about 60 percent or less of its maximum volume (with a 60 minute listening time limit). It may not be cool to wear earplugs to your next concert, but premature hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Disregarding the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
And finally, we have the unsettling fact that individuals tend to wait nearly 10 years from the start of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That indicates two things: 1) people unnecessarily suffer the effects of hearing loss for ten years, and 2) they make their hearing loss much harder to treat.
It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with today’s technology, hearing aids are extraordinarily effective. The amount of hearing you get back will depend on the extent of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss has a tendency to become worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated the moment you notice any symptoms.