Our ears might 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. Despite supplying us with one of our most essential senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, right until there are problems. After that, we realize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have learned proper ear care earlier. The secret is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you desire to avoid problems and protect your hearing, avoid these 4 dangerous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of removing 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 thin tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which allegedly 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 required to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually discovered within the ear candle after the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the customary 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 firmly 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 forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax contains helpful antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is organically eliminated by the regular movements of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s required from you is standard showering, or, if you do have problems with excess earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing practitioner.
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 producers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to exceedingly loud music
Our ears are simply 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 produce permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
A regular 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. This 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 achieve a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can produce permanent injury.
If you would like to conserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to concerts (and at work 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. Overlooking the signs of hearing loss
Last, we have the distressing fact that individuals tend to wait almost a decade from the beginning of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That indicates two things: 1) people needlessly suffer the effects of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they make their hearing loss a great deal harder to treat.
It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with modern technology, hearing aids are extremely effective. The extent of hearing you get back will depend on the extent of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss has a tendency to get more serious over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.