Ear candling also referred to as ear coning or candling is an age-old therapeutic practice believed to remove excess wax build up in the ear canals. The ear candling process is a thermal-auricular therapy. Several natural health centers have also claimed to achieve other benefits out of this method as relief from sinus pain, stabilize emotions, strengthen the brain, cure cancer, and the list goes on. However, these are just claims as none of them is backed by any concrete scientific pieces of evidence.
In fact, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has banned the import of auricular candles marketed by foreign companies (1). In short, ear candling could be a potential threat to the health of your ear and never recommended. Let‘s see why?
How is ear candling done?
This procedure requires an ear candle and a plate to collect burnt candle ash and wax. The ear candle is about 10.75“ long hollow cone made from unbleached fabric. This fabric is usually linen (can be cotton also) which is soaked in either paraffin wax, beeswax or soy wax.
The person is instructed to lie on one side with the treated ear uppermost. The smaller end of the candle is inserted into the ear canal and lit. The candle can be stuck through an aluminum coated paper plate. The plate would protect the person from any hot ash and wax falling off the cone.
The candle can either be inserted at 90 degrees or 45 degrees depending on the practitioners’ preference. The flame is occasionally cut every two inches and when the remainder of four inches remain, the candle is removed and blown out.
The same procedure is carried out with the other ear. The process lasts for typically an hour or less and accompanied by the crackling sound of candle burning. The result is a brown wax-like deposit in the candle fabric.
Theories behind ear candling.
Ear candling mechanism can be a result of either of these two theories. The first hypothesis is around chimney effect. According to this theory, a burning candle creates a vacuum or negative pressure that draws wax out of the ear along with debris and bacteria, which is seen as a precipitate on the candle fabric.
The second hypothesis states that the heat of the candle melts the wax and it comes out of ear after few days.
Flaws with above ear candling hypothesis
The kind of negative pressure or vacuum required to pull out sticky ear wax would have to be powerful enough to rupture the eardrum. On the contrary, researchers found that ear candling does not create any vacuum or low-pressure condition (2).
The Journal Canadian Family Physician stated that ear candling is trending and is a heavily advertised technique which makes false promises, which may seem scientific to lay people.
Even the second hypothesis does not hold up either. Heat produced by hollow fabric candle is below human body temperature which is too low to melt the ear wax. Eminent otolaryngologists ( Ear, nose and throat doctors) and other studies have concluded that the ear candles produced the same residue when burnt without ear insertion.
Is it safe to go for ear candling for ear wax removal?
The answer is a big “NO“. Instead, we should question ourselves whether we should go for ear wax removal or not? Ear wax or cerumen is present in the inner canal of our ear. This wax is produced by our ear to prevent any foreign entry through the canal.
Healthy ears have a self-cleaning process, and they usually do not require external cleaning. Ear usually discard excess build up wax outside without.
Our attempt to clear ear wax with Johnson’s baby cotton buds or Q-Tips is often futile and wrong. While cleaning the ear wax one can accidentally push the wax deeper, causing a blockage.
According to US food and drug administration (USA FDA), ear candling practitioners have put forth claims stating that it can purify blood and cure cancer, which in reality are all bogus claims (3).
But in case you have an excess of wax in your ear then you should opt for regular and approved medical practices.
Safe methods of ear wax removal
There are several reliable methods are in practice for removing extra wax built up. Here are some conventional techniques for cerumen removal.
Softening of ear wax is another widely used method wherein mineral oil or baby oil is flooded in the ear canal (4). The same procedure is repeated in the other ear. after 30 minutes, the extra oil along with the softened wax is extracted.
Irrigation of ear canal should be strictly done under the supervision of a doctor (5). In this procedure, a stream of water is aimed at the ear canal with the help of a syringe.
Care should be taken that the water is at body temperature. Water that is too cold or warm can cause dizziness.
The doctor can alternatively also use a curette or suction to remove any blockage. This is a popular method and unlike the belief of infection following the procedure.
Ear candling could be dangerous
Various studies have been conducted on ear candling by leading health facilities around the world, and there hasn’t been any concrete evidence about the efficacy of this method. It must also be noted that ear candling is associated with a considerable amount of risk on your health.
Physicians see complications from ear candling like candle wax occlusion, local burns, and tympanic membrane perforation.
USA FDA also stated that ear candling is dangerous to health when used in the dosage or manner. It can cause, first and second-degree burns, perforation in the tympanic membrane, permanent hearing loss (6) and severe ear infections.
Also, ear candle is often made up of fabric which is soaked in paraffin, which is carcinogenic. Sometimes candles are often colored with synthetic color. Burning such candles would produce harmful fumes.
Candles used in ear candling process ranges from $2 to $10 and does not have any quality checks.
It is evident that ear candling process cannot do any good. Instead, it can harm you big time. We suggest patients and natural practitioners discourage its use. There are several natural alternatives to reduce or remove the excess wax build up in your ear.
Eat Omega-3 Rich foods or organic supplements, which are believed to reduce ear wax. Also, methods like moisturizing outer ear could avoid any chance of having dry wax inside the ear.