Our ears might possibly be our most mistreated 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 important senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.
That is, until there are problems. After that, we comprehend just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we should have practiced proper ear care earlier. The secret is to realize this before the injury is done.
If you desire to avoid issues and protect your hearing, avoid these 4 dangerous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method 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 other end is set on fire, which allegedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that draws earwax up into the tube.
Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t create negative pressure. As stated 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 procedure. 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 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 need any other 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 forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax contains beneficial antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically eliminated by the regular motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is standard showering, or, if you do have problems with too much earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing expert.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the package of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll come across a warning from the manufacturers 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 manage the loud sounds we’ve learned how to generate. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
An everyday 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 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
Similarly, many earbuds can achieve a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can produce irreparable injury.
If you prefer 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. Dismissing the signs of hearing loss
Last, we have the troubling fact that individuals have the tendency to wait almost a decade from the beginning of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people needlessly experience the negative effects of hearing loss for 10 years, and 2) they make their hearing loss much 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 depend on the degree of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss has a tendency to get worse as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.