Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears might 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 supplying us with one of our most essential senses, we rarely give our ears, or our hearing, much appreciation or consideration.

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

If you desire to avoid issues and protect 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 purportedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that draws earwax up into the tube.

Except that it does not, for two reasons.

First, 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 required 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 standard 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 strongly opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat), if you require any other reasons not to do it.

2. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears

We’ve written about this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply forces the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax contains helpful antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically 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 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 package of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll notice 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 simply not equipped to manage the loud sounds we’ve learned 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 regular 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. This 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!

Likewise, many earbuds can generate a comparable output of 100 decibels or greater—all from inside the ear canal. It’s not surprising then that this can create permanent injury.

If you want to conserve your hearing, make sure to 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. Overlooking the signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Last, we have the unsettling fact that people commonly wait almost ten years from the start of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.

That means two things: 1) people needlessly experience the 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 extremely effective. The level of hearing you get back will depend on the degree 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.