Your grandmother always told you to clean behind your ears, but what about the rest of the ear? From myths about cotton swabs to how to enjoy your headphones responsibly, each of our 7 tips will bring you one step closer to healthier ears – and a healthier you.
1. Use earplugs or ear muffs in loud environments
It is recommended that you protect your ears when being exposed to sound levels that exceed 85 decibels. Earplugs or ear muffs reduce the noise exposure level so that you can continue to be in the noisy environment without being exposed to the full extent of the noise levels. Ear plugs are worn in the ear canal, and they come in both pre-molded or moldable (foam ear plugs) form. When looking for ear plugs, pay attention to the NRR (noise reduction rating). The higher the NRR, the more noise reduction you can expect. “High fidelity” earplugs are especially popular with musicians and performers as they lower sound levels without distorting the sound. Ear muffs are another ear protection option which sit around the ear and consist of soft ear cushions. Many people find these convenient and comfortable, but most ear muffs may not offer quite the same level of noise reduction as many ear plugs123.
2. Turn the volume down on your headphones
The recommended safe noise level for headphones is between 60 and 85 db. A simple way to monitor this is to ensure that you do not increase the volume to over two thirds of the volume range capacity for the device you’re listening on. Another trick you can do is to hold your headphones in front of you while the music is playing. If you can hear the music clearly, it is probably a good idea to turn the music down a few notches. Noise-cancelling headphones are an effective way to listen to music since they block out background noise and therefore allow the user to listen to music at lower volumes45.
3. Dry your ears after a shower or after a swim
After swimming or taking a shower, tilt your head to each side to let any excess water out of your ears. You can also rub the outside of your ears with a clean towel to dry them even more. Swimmer’s ear can be caused by water getting stuck in the ear canal, which removes the protective ear wax and softens the skin in the ear canal - and therefore makes the ear more susceptible to bacterial infections. Gently drying your ears can decrease your risk for infection67.
4. Do not clean your ears with cotton swabs
Now that you’ve learned some ways to keep your ears clean after swimming, it is now important to learn that your ears should not, contrary to popular belief, be cleaned with cotton swabs. As mentioned before, earwax plays an important role in keeping your ears healthy and preventing them from infection, so removing the earwax with cotton swabs only increases your risk for infection. Additionally, cotton swabs can damage the skin or push earwax further into the ear canal6. If you feel that you have excessive wax build-up which requires some cleaning, you can try picking up some ear wax spray from a local pharmacy. If that does not work well enough for you, consider visiting a hearing care expert to get some professional advice, as some earwax build-up requires professional removal.
5. Wear hats or earmuffs during cold weather
Frequent exposure to cold weather without ear protection can higher your risk for hearing loss. This is due to the fact that your body may react to these exposures by increasing bone growth in the ear canal in order to “block out” the cold. This additional growth is called exotosis. It is common among skiiers, snowboarders, and surfers who are exposed to cold temperatures and/or cold water. It is advised that hats or earmuffs are worn at temperatures of around 15 celsius (or 59 fahrenheit) or below. While these temperatures do not seem very cold, this is the temperature in which your blood vessels start to constrict in order to consolidate warmth, making your ears become more susceptible to the cold weather89.
6. Be sure to keep hearing aids and headphones clean
Hearing aids and headphones can get dirty after sitting in our ears for days or weeks on end. In addition, oils and ear wax on the earpieces can affect the sound quality of hearing aids or headphones so regular cleanings will ensure that you are getting the most out of your hearing experience. Most often, hearing aids are recommended to be cleaned with a soft, dry cloth . Make sure to clean and dry your hands before handling the hearing aids. Do not use alcohol, cleaning fluids or water when cleaning hearing aids. For headphones, a little bit of soap and water can be applied to a cloth and then used to rub the surface of the earpieces to the headphones10.
7. Pay attention to signs of excessive wax build-up
As mentioned above, our ears are self-cleaning organs, so they typically do not require cleaning, but if you experience any of the below symptoms, you could have something called cerumen impaction which is a condition where earwax completely fills the ear canal. This level of wax buildup is rare, but if you experience any of the below symptoms, contact your local hearing care expert:
- A feeling that the ear is plugged
- Itching or discharge in the ear
- Ringing in the ears – or “tinnitus”
- Any signs of hearing loss
- Pain in the ear
Taking care of your ears doesn’t have to be time consuming. With a bit of practice, you can keep your ears in good shape. Has it been some time since your last hearing test? Or is it time for your first? Click here to book a free hearing test with your local participating clinic .