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Things You Should Never Do to Your Ears

June 23, 2016

Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears might 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 providing us with one of our most important senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.

That is, right until there are problems. Then, we grasp just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we should have learned proper ear care earlier. The trick is to recognize this before the injury is done.

If you want to avoid problems and safeguard your hearing, stay away from these 4 dangerous practices.

1. Ear Candling

Ear candling is a technique 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 composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The other end is set on fire, which supposedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks 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 expressed 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 tested this by burning some ear candles the standard 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 additional 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 pushes the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax is made up of advantageous 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 normal showering, or, if you do have issues with too much earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing consultant.

But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any box 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 excessively loud music

Our ears are just not equipped to handle the loud sounds we’ve learned how to generate. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to initiate irreversible hearing loss.

How loud is 85 decibels?

An average 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. That means the jump 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 similar output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s hardly surprising then that this can create permanent injury.

If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and at work if needed) and keep your portable music player volume at about 60 percent or less of its maximum 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 and symptoms of hearing loss

Finally, we have the troubling fact that people commonly wait almost 10 years from the onset of symptoms before searching for help for their hearing loss.

That indicates two things: 1) people needlessly suffer the effects 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 amount of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree of your hearing loss, and given that hearing loss tends to become more serious over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.

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