Our ears may possibly 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. In spite of supplying us with one of our most crucial senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.
That is, right until there are problems. After that, we realize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have practiced proper ear care sooner. The secret is to recognize this before the harm is done.
If you want to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, avoid these 4 dangerous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of eliminating 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 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 does not, for two reasons.
First of all, 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 rupture the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found 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 inserting 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 require any additional reasons not to do it.
2. Using cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve written about this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply pushes 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 characteristics, and is naturally expelled by the regular motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required 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 package 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 manage the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible 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. Which means the leap from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
Likewise, many earbuds can create a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside the ear canal. It’s hardly surprising then that this can produce permanent injury.
If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and while at work 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 untimely hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Ignoring the signs of hearing loss
Last, we have the distressing fact that individuals have the tendency to wait almost 10 years from the onset of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people needlessly experience 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 today’s technology, hearing aids are remarkably effective. The degree of hearing you get back will be based on on the extent of your hearing loss, and seeing that hearing loss tends to become worse over the years, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.