Our ears could very well 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. Despite supplying us with one of our most vital senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or thought.
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 comprehend this before the damage is done.
If you want to avoid problems and safeguard your hearing, stay away from these 4 unsafe practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of eliminating earwax, and additionally, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is conducted. One end of a thin tube made 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 of all, 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 needed to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is in fact found within the ear candle following the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the standard way and burning other candles without placing them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also dangerous and is strongly 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 covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only pushes the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of beneficial antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically eliminated 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 trouble with excess earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing professional.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the package of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll discover 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 simply not equipped to manage the loud sounds we’ve learned how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to produce 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!
Likewise, many earbuds can produce a similar output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside the ear canal. It’s not surprising then that this can produce permanent harm.
If you prefer to conserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and 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. Ignoring the signs of hearing loss
And finally, we have the distressing fact that people tend to wait almost a decade from the start of symptoms before searching for 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 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 remarkably effective. The level of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss tends to become worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated the moment you notice any symptoms.