Our ears might 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 providing us with one of our most critical senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.
That is, up until there are problems. Then, we understand just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we should have learned proper ear care sooner. The trick is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you want to avoid issues and protect your hearing, stay away from these 4 unsafe practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a technique of eliminating earwax, and also, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is done. One end of a slim 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 doesn’t, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t create negative pressure. As expressed 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, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found within the ear candle after the therapy. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the conventional 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 require any additional reasons not to do it.
2. Using cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply presses the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of beneficial antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically expelled by the normal movements of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s required from you is standard showering, or, if you do have issues with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing expert.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll notice 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 handle the loud sounds we’ve learned how to create. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to initiate permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An everyday 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. Which 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!
Similarly, many earbuds can produce a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside the ear canal. It’s hardly surprising then that this can create irreparable injury.
If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and on the job if needed) and maintain 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
Finally, we have the distressing fact that individuals commonly wait almost a decade from the start of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people unnecessarily experience the negative effects of hearing loss for 10 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 modern technology, hearing aids are exceptionally effective. The amount of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss tends to get worse over the years, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.