Ear Candles: Ineffective and Unsafe

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It's never a good idea to stick something in your ear and light it on fire.

What is an ear candle?

Ear candles are hollow cones made of cloth (or other material) covered in paraffin wax, beeswax, or soy wax. The tapered end is intended to be placed in the ear while the wider end is lit on fire.  Most ear candles are about a foot in length.

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.

What Is Ear Candling Supposed to Do?

Marketers of ear candles advertise them as treatments for the following:

After the procedure, the practitioner usually cuts the candle open vertically to show the patient the material that was drawn out of the ear.

What is really in the candle?

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.  Liquids and gases cannot pass through a normal healthy ear drum, so the idea that an ear candle can pull sinus congestion out through the ear is simply not physically possible.

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.

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
  • secondary ear canal infections

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, or consult your audiologist or physician.

Sources:

E. Ernst M.D., Ph.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.C.P.(Ed). Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology / Volume 118 / Issue 01 / January 2004, pp 1-Published online: 08 March 2006

Roazen L. Why ear candling is not a good idea? Accessed 04/19/2015 from: http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/candling.html

 

Kianoosh Nahid, Prepageran Narayanan, Mohammad Amin Jalaluddin. Ear Candling: A Dangerous Pleasure? Iranian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology Vol. 23, No.1, Winter-2011

Clark J, Beck D, and Kutz W. Ear Candles and Candling: Ineffective and Dangerous. American Academy of Audiology. Accessed online 04/20/2015 from http://www.audiology.org/news/ear-candles-and-candling-ineffective-and-dangerous.

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