Ear Candling

Is It a Safe Way to Remove Ear Wax?

Woman lying downhaving ear candling
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Best known as an alternative approach for removing ear wax, ear candling is a practice said to improve general well-being.

How is Ear Candling Done?

Ear candles are tubes (approximately 10 inches in length) that are made of cotton or linen fabric that has been wound into a cone shape, soaked in wax, and then allowed to harden. 

During an ear candling session, a person lies down on one side with the ear being treated facing up.

The hollow tube, or ear candle, is placed through a hole in a wax-collecting plate and into the external ear canal. The candle is lit at the opposite end and the practitioner trims the burnt material. The treatment ends after several minutes or when the candle stub is several inches from the patient's head. The ear candle stub is removed and extinguished, and the outer ear may be wiped with a cotton ball. 

Does It Work?

According to its advocates, the ear candles create a low-level vacuum that softens and draws earwax and other substances out of the ear and into the hollow candles. After the procedure, a dark, waxy substance is sometimes left in the hollow candle stub. Proponents of ear candling believe that this substance is ear wax and other debris that has been removed from the ear by the ear candle. However, critics of ear candling contend that the substance that remains after ear candling is a byproduct from the candle wax.

A study published in the journal Laryngoscope tested the theory and found ear candles did not produce a vacuum or negative pressure and that the waxy remains consisted of substances found in candle wax but not in ear wax. The study also found that ear candling did not result in the removal of earwax from the ear canal and even caused candle wax to be deposited in some ears.

Some proponents of ear candling claim that ear candling can treat sinusitis, sinus pain, tinnitus, vertigo, and otitis media. The external ear canal, however, is separated from the middle ear, sinuses, Eustachian tube, and nasal passages by the ear drum (tympanic membrane).

Other manufacturers claim that smoke from the burning candles dries out the ear canal and stimulates the body's natural excretion of wax and dead cells, pollen, mold, parasites, and other debris. There is no evidence supporting these claims.

Safety and Side Effects

There are serious potential risks involved in ear candling such as:

  • Burns to the ear, skin, and hair from the hot wax
  • Obstruction of the ear canal due to wax dripping into the ear
  • Wax deposits in the ear
  • Perforated ear drum
  • Hearing loss
  • Otitis externa

The most frequently reported adverse effect of ear candling is a burn, either from the candle flame or from the hot wax. People with existing tympanic membrane perforation should not try ear candling.

Is Ear Candling Necessary?

There is a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of ear candling, and it can cause damage to the ears.

 Ear wax has a protective role. It cleans and lubricates the ear, and can protect the ear canal from bacteria and fungus. The ear has a self-cleaning system that naturally removes ear wax. Most people do not require additional cleaning. However, a breakdown in this self-cleaning system can cause a condition known as cerumen impaction. If you develop an earwax blockage, consult your doctor about safe and effective ways to remove the wax.

Sources

Jabor MA, Amadee RG. Cerumen impaction. Journal of the La State Medical Society. 1977:149;358-62.

Roeser RJ, Ballachanda BB. Physiology, pathophysiology, and anthropology/epidemiology of human ear canal secretions. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. 1997:8;391-400.

Seely DR, Quigley SM, Langman AW. Ear candles - efficacy and safety. Laryngoscope. 1996:106;1226-9.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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