Our ears may 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 providing us with one of our most important senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.
That is, until there are problems. Then, we realize just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we should have figured out proper ear care sooner. The secret is to recognize this before the damage is done.
If you desire to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, avoid these 4 hazardous 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 performed. One end of a thin tube made of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The other 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 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 rupture the eardrum.
Second, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found within the ear candle following the therapy. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the customary way and burning other candles without placing them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also risky and is firmly opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat), if you need 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 only forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax is made up of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically eliminated by the regular movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s needed 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 packaging of any box 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 exceedingly loud music
Our ears are just not equipped to manage the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to create. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to produce irreversible 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. 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!
In the same way, many earbuds can produce a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from within the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can create permanent injury.
If you prefer 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 premature hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Disregarding the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Finally, we have the troubling fact that individuals have the tendency to wait nearly a decade from the beginning of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That indicates two things: 1) people unnecessarily experience the consequences 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 today’s technology, hearing aids are remarkably effective. The degree of hearing you get back will be based on on the severity of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss has a tendency to become more serious over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.