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Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

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 consideration.

That is, right until there are problems. After that, we understand just how crucial healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have practiced proper ear care sooner. The secret is to comprehend this before the injury is done.

If you desire to avoid problems and safeguard your hearing, avoid these 4 hazardous practices.

1. Ear Candling

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 performed. One end of a thin tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which allegedly 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 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 found within the ear candle after the procedure. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the conventional 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 firmly 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 written about this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply drives 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 organically removed by the normal motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s needed from you is standard showering, or, if you do have trouble with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing consultant.

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 find 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 manage 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?

A normal 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 leap 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 achieve a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside the ear canal. It’s not surprising then that this can create irreparable harm.

If you want to conserve your hearing, make sure to 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 untimely hearing loss is not much cooler.

4. Overlooking the signs of hearing loss

Last, we have the unsettling fact that individuals have the tendency to wait nearly 10 years from the beginning of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.

That means two things: 1) people unnecessarily suffer the negative effects 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 today’s technology, hearing aids are exceptionally effective. The degree of hearing you get back will depend on the extent of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss tends to get worse as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.