The Most Common Ways People Damage Their Ears

Picture of an ear | What You Should Never Do to Your Ears

As a society, we tend to abuse our ears. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, shove cotton swabs inside them and even burn them with ear candling. They are one of our most important senses, but we continue to take them for granted.

Right up until the point they stop working well. It’s an eye-opening moment when we realize just how important healthy ears really are and how we should have appreciated them more, but maybe it’s not too late. Consider 4 dangerous practices worth avoiding.

1. Ditch the Ear Candles

Ear candling is a method of removing earwax, and also, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”

Here’s how ear candling is done. One end of a narrow tube made 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 doesn’t, for two reasons.

First, the ear candle doesn’t create negative pressure. As stated 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 found within the ear candle after the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested 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 strongly opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat) if you need any other reasons not to do it.

2. Don’t Ever Swab Them

We’ve covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only pushes the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax contains beneficial 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 excessive 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 find a warning from the manufacturers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.

3. About That Loud Music

Our ears are simply not equipped to handle the loud sounds we’ve learned how to create. 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. That means the jump 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 higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can create permanent injury.

If you want to preserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to concerts (and on the job 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. Pay Attention to What Your Ears are Telling You

Finally, we have the distressing fact that people tend to wait almost a decade from the onset of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.

That means two things:

1) People needlessly suffer the consequences of hearing loss for 10 years, and

2) They make their hearing loss much harder to treat.

It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with today’s technology, hearing aids are extremely effective. The amount of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and since hearing loss tends to get worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.

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