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Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears might possibly be our most abused body part. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, force cotton swabs inside them, and burn them with ear candling. In spite of providing us with one of our most critical senses, we seldom give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.

That is, up until there are problems. After that, we comprehend just how crucial 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, stay away from these 4 unsafe 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 narrow tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which purportedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that sucks earwax up into the tube.

Except that it does not, 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 called for to suck up earwax would rupture the eardrum.

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

Ear candling is also risky and is strongly 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 drives the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax contains helpful antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is naturally removed by the normal movements of the jaw (from speaking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is standard showering, or, if you do have trouble with excess earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing expert.

But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll find 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 handle the loud sounds we’ve figured out how to create. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible 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. 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!

In the same way, many earbuds can achieve a similar output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can create permanent harm.

If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (and while 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 premature hearing loss is not much cooler.

4. Overlooking the signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Last, we have the troubling fact that individuals commonly wait almost a decade 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 ten 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 extraordinarily effective. The extent of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree of your hearing loss, and seeing that hearing loss tends to become more serious as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.