What Is Ear Candling?
Ear candles are hollow cones made of cloth (or other material) covered in paraffin wax, beeswax, or soy wax. One end is tapered or pointed. This end is placed in the ear. The other end is a little wider and is meant to be lit. Most ear candles are about a foot in length.
Proponents of ear candling claim that the warmth created by the flame causes a suction action that pulls earwax and other impurities out of the ear canal and into the hollow candle.
To perform this technique, you lie on your side with one ear facing down. Then the practitioner (esthetician, or a friend) actually inserts the pointed end into the ear hole, adjusting it to create a “seal.” You can perform the procedure yourself, but this is especially dangerous and not recommended.
In most cases, a circular guard of some sort is placed about two-thirds of the way down the candle to catch any dripping wax. These are often flimsy, made of aluminum foil or paper plates.
Cautious practitioners will cover your head and neck with a towel for more protection. Guidelines also suggest holding the candle straight so any drippings roll down the side rather than dropping into the ear or onto the face.
The candle is allowed to burn for about 10 to 15 minutes. During that time, the burned part of the cloth is supposed to be trimmed to prevent it from contaminating the tube. The procedure continues until only about 3 to 4 inches of the candle remain. Then the flame is extinguished carefully. Blowing it out while it’s still in the ear can increase risk of flying burning ash.
What Is Ear Candling Supposed to Do?
Marketers of ear candles advertise them as treatments for the following:
- earwax buildup
- swimmer’s ear or ear infections
- hearing problems
- sinus infections or other sinus conditions
- symptoms of a cold or the flu
- sore throat
- vertigo or dizziness
- stress and tension
After the procedure, the practitioner usually cuts the candle open vertically to show the patient the material that was drawn out of the ear.
But is that really what that dark-colored matter is?
Part 3 of 5: No Evidence
The Science Says “No”
Scientific studies have found no evidence that ear candling creates a “vacuum” in the ear that pulls out debris. There’s also no evidence that it pulls residue out of the ear canal.
In a 2004 study published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, researchers concluded that the mode of action “is implausible and demonstrably wrong.” They added that there was no evidence to show ear candling was effective for any condition, and that it should not be used for any reason.
In a 2011 study, scientists noted the experience of a 33-year-old lady who came to an ear clinic because of pain inside her ear. After doctors examined her, they found a yellowish mass in the ear canal. She mentioned that she had recently undergone an ear candling procedure at a massage center. Doctors determined the mass was formed from candlewax that had dropped into her ear. When they removed it, the woman’s symptoms went away.
The researchers went on to state that though ear candling was used in ancient China, Egypt, Tibet, India, and other locations, research from the late 1990s showed that it doesn’t actually work. On the other hand, it does send a number of patients to their doctors every year with candlewax-based injuries.
What about the debris patients see when they cut open the candles? Is it debris pulled from the ear? According to studies, it’s not. Scientific measurements of the ear canals before and after candling showed no reduction in earwax. In many cases, they found an increase in wax because of that deposited by the candles.
Part 4 of 5: Injuries
Risk of Injuries with Ear Candling
While there is no reliable evidence showing any benefits of ear candling, there is plenty showing its potential risks and harms.
In February 2010, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers and healthcare providers not to use them because they could cause “serious injuries,” even when used according to directions.
The administration added that they had found no “valid scientific evidence” supporting the effectiveness of ear candling. They had, however, received reports of patients suffering burns, perforated eardrums, and ear canal blockages that required surgery as a result of using them.
Ear candling increases risk of the following potential injuries:
- burns to the face, outer ear, eardrum and inner ear
- burns resulting from starting a fire
- candlewax getting into the ear and causing a plug or inner ear damage
- damage to the eardrum
- hearing loss
Most concerning is the potential damage that can occur to small children. The FDA noted in its warnings on ear candling that children and babies are at increased risk of injuries and complications from ear candles.
Part 5 of 5: Worth It?
Is It Worth the Risk?
If you’re careful when going through ear candling, can you enjoy the idea that it might be helping you, even if there is no scientific evidence behind it? Some people go through the process without significant injury, but the practice requires time and money, and there is substantial long-term risk.
Possible complications of candling include:
- ear canal occlusions
- ear drum perforations
- secondary ear canal infections
- hearing loss
- ash coating the eardrum
Rather than ear candling, it may be best to consider other options for removing wax buildup, such as:
- earwax softening drops, available at local pharmacies
- flushing the ear with warm water (Check with your pharmacy for a bulb-type syringe that makes the process easier.)
- asking your doctor for other approved treatments