Our ears might possibly be our most abused 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 important senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.
That is, right until there are problems. After that, we realize just how important healthy hearing really is—and how we should have figured out proper ear care earlier. The trick is to recognize this before the damage is done.
If you want to avoid problems and protect your hearing, stay away from these 4 unsafe practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of eliminating 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 narrow 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, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is in fact found within the ear candle following the treatment. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the traditional way and burning other candles without placing them into the ear. The residue was 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 need any other reasons not to do it.
2. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only presses the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax contains helpful antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically removed 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 issues 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 packaging of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll find a warning from the producers 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 deal with the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An average 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. This means the leap 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 produce a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside the ear canal. It’s not 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 necessary) 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 untimely hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Dismissing the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
And finally, we have the troubling fact that people tend to wait nearly 10 years from the start of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That indicates two things: 1) people needlessly experience the 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 extraordinarily effective. The level of hearing you get back will be based on on the seriousness of your hearing loss, and since hearing loss has a tendency to get worse as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.