Our ears could very well be our most mistreated body part. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, stuff cotton swabs inside them, and burn them with ear candling. In spite of supplying us with one of our most significant senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.
That is, until there are problems. After that, we realize just how important healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have figured out proper ear care earlier. The secret is to recognize this before the damage is done.
If you want to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, avoid these 4 dangerous 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 performed. One end of a thin tube made of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which purportedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that draws earwax up into the tube.
Except that it does not, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t create negative pressure. As explained by Lisa M.L. Dryer, MD, earwax is sticky, so even if negative pressure was created, the pressure called for to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found within the ear candle following the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the standard 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 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 forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax contains advantageous antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is organically expelled by the regular movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is normal showering, or, if you do have trouble with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing consultant.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the package of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll find 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 just not equipped to deal with the loud sounds we’ve learned how to generate. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An everyday 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. That means the leap from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
Similarly, many earbuds can achieve a similar output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can produce permanent harm.
If you would like to preserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to concerts (and while at work if needed) 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 untimely hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Disregarding the signs of hearing loss
Last, we have the troubling fact that people have the tendency to wait almost ten years from the start of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people needlessly suffer the effects of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they make 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 modern technology, hearing aids are extraordinarily effective. The degree of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree of your hearing loss, and seeing that hearing loss tends to become worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated the moment you notice any symptoms.