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Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears might possibly be our most mistreated 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 never give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.

That is, up until there are problems. After that, we understand just how important healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have learned proper ear care sooner. The trick is to realize this before the harm is done.

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

1. Ear Candling

Ear candling is a technique 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 other end is set on fire, which purportedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that draws earwax up into the tube.

Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.

First of all, the ear candle doesn’t create 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 in fact found within the ear candle following the therapy. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated 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 harmful 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 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 only presses the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax is made up of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is organically expelled by the regular movements of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have issues with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing practitioner.

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

Our ears are just not equipped to deal with the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to generate. 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 concert 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 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 produce a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can create permanent harm.

If you prefer to conserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to concerts (and while at work if necessary) and maintain your portable music player volume at about 60 percent or less of its max 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. Ignoring the signs of hearing loss

Last, 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 means two things: 1) people needlessly experience the negative effects 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 exceptionally effective. The amount of hearing you get back will depend on the severity of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss has a tendency to get worse over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.