Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears could very well be our most mistreated 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 thought.

That is, until there are problems. After that, we recognize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have figured out proper ear care sooner. The secret is to realize this before the injury is done.

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

1. Ear Candling

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

Here’s how ear candling is carried out. One end of a slim tube composed 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 draws earwax up into the tube.

Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.

First of all, 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 needed 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 following the treatment. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall tested this by burning some ear candles the customary way and burning other candles without placing them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.

Ear candling is also dangerous and is fervently 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 written about this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply pushes the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and possibly a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax consists of beneficial antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is organically eliminated 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 packaging of any pack of cotton swabs. You’ll discover 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 manage the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to produce. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to initiate irreversible hearing loss.

How loud is 85 decibels?

An everyday 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 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!

Likewise, many earbuds can generate a similar output of 100 decibels or higher—all from inside of the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can produce irreparable harm.

If you want to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (and while at work if needed) 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 and symptoms of hearing loss

Finally, we have the distressing fact that individuals tend to wait almost ten years from the beginning of symptoms before searching for 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 more difficult to treat.

It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with modern technology, hearing aids are exceptionally effective. The level of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree 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 the moment you notice any symptoms.