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 supplying us with one of our most vital senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.
That is, up until there are problems. After that, we recognize just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have practiced proper ear care earlier. The trick is to realize this before the damage is done.
If you desire to avoid problems and safeguard 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 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 of all, 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 needed 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 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 risky and is fervently 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 written about this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only forces the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of helpful antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally removed by the normal movements of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have issues with too much earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing practitioner.
But don’t take our word for it: just take a look at the back of the package of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll notice a warning from the manufacturers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to excessively loud music
Our ears are simply not equipped to handle 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 regular 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. Which 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 create a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can produce irreparable harm.
If you want to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and while at work 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 premature hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Overlooking the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Finally, we have the unsettling fact that people have the tendency to wait almost a decade from the onset of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people unnecessarily experience the negative effects of hearing loss for ten 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 extraordinarily effective. The level of hearing you get back will be based on on the severity of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss has a tendency to get worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.