Our ears could very well be our most abused body part. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, shove cotton swabs inside them, and burn them with ear candling. Despite supplying us with one of our most significant senses, we rarely give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, up until there are problems. Then, we grasp just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we should have learned proper ear care earlier. The trick is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you want to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, stay away from these 4 hazardous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of removing earwax, and also, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is accomplished. One end of a slim tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which supposedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks earwax up into the tube.
Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.
First of all, the ear candle doesn’t generate negative pressure. As stated by Lisa M.L. Dryer, MD, earwax is sticky, so even if negative pressure was created, the pressure required to suck up earwax would rupture the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually discovered within the ear candle following the therapy. 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 dangerous 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 additional reasons not to do it.
2. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve written about this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only presses the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of beneficial antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is organically eliminated by the regular movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have trouble with excess earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing practitioner.
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 come across a warning from the manufacturers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to extremely loud music
Our ears are just not equipped to manage the loud sounds we’ve figured out how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to initiate permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An ordinary conversation registers at about 60, while a rock performance registers at over 100. But here’s the thing about the decibel scale: it’s logarithmic, not linear. This means the leap from 60 to 100 decibels does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
Likewise, many earbuds can achieve a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s not surprising then that this can create permanent harm.
If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (and at work if needed) and maintain your portable music player volume at about 60 percent or less of its max 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. Overlooking the signs of hearing loss
Last, we have the distressing fact that people commonly wait almost 10 years from the beginning of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That indicates two things: 1) people needlessly experience the negative effects of hearing loss for ten years, and 2) they render their hearing loss much more difficult to treat.
It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with today’s technology, hearing aids are remarkably effective. The level of hearing you get back will depend on the degree of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss has a tendency to become worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated the moment you notice any symptoms.