Our ears may 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 significant senses, we rarely give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, right until there are problems. Then, we understand just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we should have figured out proper ear care sooner. The trick is to realize this before the injury is done.
If you desire to avoid issues and preserve your hearing, avoid these 4 hazardous 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 conducted. One end of a thin tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The other end is set on fire, which purportedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks earwax up into the tube.
Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.
First, the ear candle doesn’t generate negative pressure. As expressed 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 following the therapy. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the conventional 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 additional reasons not to do it.
2. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax consists of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally removed by the normal motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is normal showering, or, if you do have trouble with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing specialist.
But don’t take our word for it: just take a look at the back of the package of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll discover a warning from the producers 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 handle the loud sounds we’ve discovered 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 average 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. This means the jump 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 generate a comparable output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s hardly surprising then that this can produce permanent injury.
If you would like to conserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (and on the job if needed) and maintain 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. Disregarding the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Last, we have the distressing fact that individuals tend to wait almost ten 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 make their hearing loss a great deal harder to treat.
It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with modern technology, hearing aids are exceptionally effective. The level of hearing you get back will be based on on the seriousness of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss tends to get more serious as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.