Our ears might possibly 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. In spite of providing us with one of our most significant senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, until there are problems. Then, we realize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have learned proper ear care sooner. The secret is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you desire to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, stay away from these 4 hazardous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a technique 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 narrow tube composed of cotton and beeswax is placed into the ear. The other 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 needed to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually discovered within the ear candle following the therapy. 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 exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also harmful and is firmly 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 written about this in other articles, 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 is made up of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally removed 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 excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing practitioner.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll come across 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 just not equipped to manage 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?
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!
Similarly, many earbuds can produce a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from within the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can produce permanent injury.
If you want to preserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to live shows (and on-the-job if necessary) 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 premature hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Overlooking the signs of hearing loss
Finally, we have the unsettling fact that people have the tendency to wait nearly 10 years from the beginning of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people needlessly suffer the consequences of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they render 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 extremely effective. The extent of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and seeing that hearing loss tends to get worse as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.