Protecting our ears is not something we usually think about, until it’s too late. It's not always easy to tell if you're experiencing hearing loss either. In fact, others may notice before you do.
A new study shows we might be inadvertently damaging our hearing without realising. From using cotton buds to listening to loud music for long periods of time, here are some of the most common mistakes we might be making in relation to our ears and audiological health.
Hearing loss risks to avoid
Using cotton buds
The majority of us (96%) use cotton buds to remove earwax, but often cotton buds can do more harm than good, pushing earwax deeper into the ear and causing it to build up further inside the ear canal.
"In more serious cases, the cotton bud can also cause damage to the structures of the inner ear causing vertigo, deafness and even facial paralysis," says Katie Ogden, Audiologist and Training Manager at hearing aid provider ReSound.
Instead, use cotton buds only on the outside of your ear. Even better, use a warm, damp washcloth to wipe the area.
Using candle wax to clean ears
"Ear candling has also become a popular earwax removal trend that has seen people inserting long, cone-shaped candles into their ears and then lighting them to draw out any earwax," Ogden, warns.
"Not only can this method result in burns from the flame, but the candle wax can also drip into the ear, clogging the canal and making you lose hearing for a while."
It's worth noting this method is unapproved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and has also been reported to have caused punctured eardrums.
Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used to soften earwax and remove it. But too much of it can not only cause irritation to the skin inside of the ear, but can also be abrasive and even lead to unwanted effects like inflammation of the inner ear and earaches.
Using headphones to listen to loud music for long periods
Any level of sound over 85dB can be harmful to the ears, especially if the ears are exposed to it for a long amount of time.
Ogden explains that our ears need frequent breaks from headphones.
"It’s advised not to listen with headphones for more than an hour at a time and ensure that 15-minute breaks are taken," she says.
Smoking and drinking
Smoking can have a huge impact on a person’s hearing health – so much so that 70% of smokers have a greater chance of developing hearing loss.
Alcohol consumption in large quantities, over a long period of time can also contribute to a hearing impairment, as damage to the central auditory cortex of the brain can occur.
Exercise is also important in order to keep the blood flowing around the human body – including to our ears.
"Having good circulation keeps oxygen levels up and keeps the internal parts of the ears healthy, which is why being inactive can be detrimental to an individual's ear health," says Ogden.
Stress and anxiety both play a major role in our ear health. They cause our body to go into fight or flight mode and have been named as possible causes of tinnitus. This fills the body with adrenaline and increases the pressure on your nerves, blood flow and body heat, which can travel up to the ears.
Stress can also heighten tinnitus symptoms which can be very distracting for those experiencing it. In turn, this can result in further stress, creating a cycle that needs to be broken in order to properly manage tinnitus.
Not wearing ear protection
Individuals that work in noisy environments and fail to use the correct ear protection such as earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones are far more likely to suffer from hearing loss.
"Anyone working in construction, music, on airline grounds, nightclubs, driving ambulances or on railways, should be extremely conscious of their ears and wear sufficient protection," advises Ogden.
Those wanting to check on their hearing should visit their local GP or do the free ReSound Online Hearing Test.
According to the NHS, common signs of hearing loss include:
difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places
asking people to repeat themselves
listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need
difficulty hearing on the phone
finding it hard to keep up with a conversation
feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening
Watch: How are earbuds affecting your hearing?