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Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears could very well 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 never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or consideration.

That is, right until there are problems. Then, we realize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have figured out proper ear care earlier. The trick is to realize this before the harm is done.

If you desire to avoid problems and preserve your hearing, avoid these 4 unsafe practices.

1. Ear Candling

Ear candling is a technique of removing 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 composed of cotton and beeswax is placed 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 doesn’t, for two reasons.

First, 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 called for to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.

Second, although the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is in fact discovered within the ear candle after the treatment. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the customary way and burning other candles without inserting them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.

Ear candling is also dangerous and is firmly 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 covered this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only presses the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax consists of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally expelled by the normal movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have problems with too much earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing professional.

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 discover a warning from the producers 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 learned how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create permanent hearing loss.

How loud is 85 decibels?

A normal 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 jump from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!

In the same way, many earbuds can generate a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s not surprising then that this can create permanent injury.

If you want to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to concerts (and at work if needed) and maintain 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 tend to wait almost a decade from the onset of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.

That indicates two things: 1) people unnecessarily suffer the negative effects of hearing loss for ten years, and 2) they render their hearing loss much more difficult to treat.

It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with modern technology, hearing aids are extremely effective. The degree of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and since 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.