Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Setting the mood, dispensing pleasant fragrance, even showing the way when the lights go out – lit candles are good for all of these things. What aren’t they good for? Drawing out earwax or treating sinus infections through the popular but very dangerous and ineffective practice of ear candling. Here’s why healthcare professionals caution you against it.
What is ear candling?
Although no one is certain when this alternative form of therapy began, some accounts trace its origins back to the Hopi Indians and their spiritual healing beliefs. The practice involves placing the tapered end of a 10-inch hollow candle into a person’s ear, then lighting the other end. Practitioners believe the flame creates suction which pulls earwax from your inner ear.
Candlers believe, falsely, that the passages in the head are all connected so that clearing the ear canal of wax leaves you with a clean head. In addition to relieving sinus pain and pressure, candlers say the practice treats everything from tinnitus and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) to swimmer’s ear and Meniere’s disease. The technique is also known as thermal auricular therapy and ear coning. No scientific studies exist to support their claims.
Why you shouldn’t do it
Healthcare professionals caution against ear candling for several reasons:
- Injuries to the inner and outer ear. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Consumer Health Update regarding ear candles, warning consumers that ear candles can cause serious injuries even when used in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions, including burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum and middle ear, injury to the ear from dripping wax, ears plugged by candle wax and puncture of the eardrum.
- The science says it doesn’t work. Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., clinical deputy director of the FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices, said the “FDA believes there is no valid scientific evidence for any medical benefit from their use.” Charles W. Beatty, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic said the research indicates ear candling is ineffective at removing earwax and can, in fact, push earwax deeper into the ear canal. Studies of the debris which remain inside the cones after a treatment are actually a combination of burned candle wax and fabric instead of impurities removed from your ear.
- A normal amount of earwax is healthy. The substance, medically known as cerumen, provides a protective barrier against dirt and bacteria, even acting as a moisturizer for your ear canal. It’s also a great bug repellent; insects are not fond of the smell. Typically, your body produces just enough earwax to keep your ears healthy, expelling the excess naturally.
So go ahead and use candles to set the mood, enjoy a soothing fragrance or illuminate a dark path, but refrain from allowing anyone to put a lit candle near your face or in your ear canal. If your ear feels stuffy, see your family doctor to determine if you have a medical condition which needs to be treated. If you aren’t hearing well, see a hearing healthcare professional. They can administer a hearing evaluation and, if you are diagnosed with hearing loss, help you determine the best treatment options for your lifestyle and budget.