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5 Home Remedy No-No's

From ear candling to colon cleansing, here are 5 home remedies that may do more harm than good.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Some home remedies like cornstarch and water on a bee sting work just fine, but other do-it-yourself health techniques can spell trouble. For instance, do you really think you should be cleansing your colon from the comfort of your home? Or removing wax from your ear by holding a lit candle inches from your head?

Don't be fooled by every home remedy you hear about. Your health is something that should be handled with care. Experts review with WebMD five home remedies that should NOT be attempted at home, describe what works better, and explain when you need to seek professional help from your health care provider.

Home Remedy No-No Number 1: Ear Candling

"Ear wax is a natural lubricant for the ear," says Jennifer Smullen, MD, instructor of otology and laryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. "It waterproofs the ear and it has an acidic pH, so it helps in preventing infections."

Given the benefits of earwax to the body, why would you want to remove it?

While it's uncommon, Smullen explains, some people do have a buildup of wax that causes itching and impaired hearing -- and that's where ear candling comes in. It's marketed as an easy at-home solution for people with this problem and involves taking a candle-shaped beeswax cone, placing it in the ear, lighting it, and after the wick burns down, removing the cone -- along with ear wax and other impurities.

Unfortunately, lighting a flame inches from your ear isn't exactly easy, and in fact, it can be dangerous.

"You can actually lose your hearing from ear candling," says Smullen. "I've had to treat bad consequences of ear candling, including burns in the ear canal and on the eardrum."

Instead of playing with fire, Smullen suggests you start with a tissue around your finger to wipe away excess wax from the outer part of the ear.

If that doesn't work, see your primary care doctor or an ear, nose, and throat specialist for professional help. Over-the-counter ear drops are available, but talk to your doctor first before putting anything in your ear.

Smullen offers a reminder that using a Q-Tip in the canal of the ear is a no-no because it can puncture the eardrum.

Home Remedy No-No Number 2: Whiskey for a Teething Baby

When a baby starts to teethe, he or she usually starts to cry, which means parents might try anything to get junior to stop, including whiskey. While the old wives' tale might offer a glimmer of hope after three nonstop hours of screaming, think again; the liquor cabinet should not be your next stop.

"First of all, children shouldn't be consuming alcohol," says Stanley Alexander, DMD, chairman of the department of pediatric dentistry at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. "Second, whiskey has no real numbing effect on the gums as the teeth are coming up."

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