Our ears may possibly 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. In spite of providing us with one of our most crucial senses, we rarely give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.
That is, until there are problems. Then, we recognize just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we should have practiced proper ear care sooner. The trick is to realize this before the injury is done.
If you desire to avoid problems and protect your hearing, stay away from these 4 dangerous 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 performed. One end of a thin tube made of cotton and beeswax is placed into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which allegedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks earwax up into the tube.
Except that it does not, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t generate 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 rupture the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually discovered within the ear candle after the treatment. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the conventional way and burning other candles without inserting them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also dangerous and is fervently 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. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve written about this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply drives the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax contains helpful antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically removed by the regular motions of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is standard showering, or, if you do have trouble with too much earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing specialist.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll notice 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 deal with the loud sounds we’ve learned how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create permanent hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An ordinary 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. That 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!
Similarly, many earbuds can achieve a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s no great surprise then that this can create permanent harm.
If you prefer to conserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to live shows (and on the job 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. Dismissing the signs of hearing loss
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 means two things: 1) people unnecessarily suffer the consequences of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they render 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 amount of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss tends to get worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.