Man lying down receiving ear candling treatment

Our ears might 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. Despite providing us with one of our most essential senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.

That is, right until there are problems. Then, we realize just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we should have practiced proper ear care sooner. The secret is to realize this before the injury is done.

If you want to avoid issues and safeguard your hearing, avoid these 4 unsafe practices.

1. Ear Candling

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

Here’s how ear candling is performed. One end of a slim tube made of cotton and beeswax is placed 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 generate negative pressure. As expressed 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, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually 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 harmful and is fervently 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 covered this in other articles, but inserting any foreign object into your ear simply presses the earwax against the eardrum, creating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.

Your earwax consists of advantageous antibacterial and lubricating characteristics, and is naturally eliminated by the regular motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is normal showering, or, if you do have problems with excess 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 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 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 produce irreversible hearing loss.

How loud is 85 decibels?

A regular 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. Which means the jump from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!

Similarly, many earbuds can achieve a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s no real shock then that this can create irreparable harm.

If you would like to preserve your hearing, ensure that you wear earplugs to live shows (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. Disregarding the signs of hearing loss

And finally, we have the distressing fact that individuals tend to wait nearly 10 years from the start of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.

That means two things: 1) people needlessly suffer the effects of hearing loss for ten 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 extraordinarily effective. The amount of hearing you get back will be based on on the extent of your hearing loss, and since hearing loss has a tendency to get more serious over time, it’s best to get tested and treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.