Our ears might be our most mistreated 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 appreciation or consideration.
That is, right until there are problems. Then, we understand just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have practiced proper ear care earlier. The trick is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you desire to avoid problems and preserve your hearing, stay away from these 4 hazardous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a technique of removing earwax, and also, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is carried out. One end of a thin tube made of cotton and beeswax is placed 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 does not, for two reasons.
First of all, 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 required to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found within the ear candle following the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the traditional way and burning other candles without inserting them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also risky and is fervently opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat), if you need 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 simply pushes the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of helpful antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is naturally expelled by the normal motions of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is normal showering, or, if you do have problems with too much 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 notice a warning from the manufacturers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to excessively loud music
Our ears are simply not equipped to handle the loud sounds we’ve figured out how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to produce permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
A normal 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 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 generate a comparable output of 100 decibels or greater—all from within the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can create irreparable harm.
If you prefer to conserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to live shows (and at work if necessary) and keep 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. Disregarding the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
And finally, we have the unsettling fact that individuals commonly wait nearly ten years from the start of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people needlessly experience the negative effects of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they render their hearing loss a great deal 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 exceptionally effective. The degree of hearing you get back will be based on on the seriousness of your hearing loss, and since hearing loss tends to get worse over the years, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.