What Is Ear Candling?

Yes, earwax is gross. But should you really stick a candle into your ear to get rid of it?

Lots of people say yes. They swear it can get rid of many problems, from wax buildup to ringing in their ears. The candles have even been reported to help with cancer treatment. It seems almost too good to be true, they say.

That’s because it is. There’s no scientific basis for ear candling. No study has ever confirmed any of the claims made about the wonders it’s supposed to work.

What’s the Claim?

Buy the candles, which are hollow fabric cones soaked in wax or paraffin. They’re around 10 inches long and can cost a few dollars apiece. Cut a hole in a paper plate and stick the candle into it. This makes sure candle wax and ash don’t fall on your face.

Lie on your side. Place the candle in your ear canal. Get someone you trust to light the opposite end. Let it burn for about 15 minutes. Repeated with the other ear.

Fans say that as the candle burns, it creates a low-level suction force that pulls wax and debris out of your ear. Others believe heat from the candle melts and softens the wax, which falls out over the next few days.

When you’re done, split the candle open and check out at all the nasty stuff inside -- wax, bacteria, and debris from inside your ear.

Ear candlers believe that passages in your head are all connected. Clearing the ear canal, they say, will clean out the rest of the pathways and leave you with a clean head.

What Are the Facts?

It sounds like a peaceful way to get healthy, but the idea of a maze of connected pathways in your head is a myth. There are solid barriers there, like the eardrum, that stop this from happening.

Other claims don’t hold up either. Earwax, especially if it’s hard and firmly pressed together, is sticky. You would need strong suction to pull it out. But one study found there was no suction force whatsoever during a candling procedure. The temperatures produced by the candle were below body temperature, far too low to melt the wax.

The debris inside burned candles is supposed to be the impurities removed from your ear, but it shows up in the candles even if they haven’t been near an ear canal. When studied, it was revealed that the contents were a blend of burned candle wax and fabric.

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Is It Safe?

At its best, ear candling is a lousy way to remove wax. At its worst, it can cause serious harm to your ear. It’s also risky to hold a lit candle close to your face. The flame or the melted wax could burn you.

Candle wax may even drip into your ear canal, clog the passage, and make you lose your hearing for a while. There are also reports of punctured eardrums after the candling process.

The FDA hasn’t approved ear candles for any medical use. It has sent warnings to manufacturers and stopped the import of candles. 

How Can I Remove Wax Safely?

Earwax removal is a delicate process. You have to be careful. Try over-the-counter ear drops.  Or just drip a few drops of water or hydrogen peroxide down your ear canal. Let it drain into the wax for a few minutes, then turn on your side to let the liquid and wax slide out. 

Don’t stick objects in your ear to get rid of wax buildup. This can push the gunk deeper into your ear, which makes the problem worse.

Save the candles for your birthday cake.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on August 16, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Rafferty, J. Canadian Family Physician, December 2007.

Health Canada: “Ear Candling.”

Seely, D.R. Laryngoscope, October 1996.

Drugstore.com.

FDA: “Don’t Get Burned: Stay Away from Ear Candles.”

American Academy of Audiology: “Ear Candles and Candling: Ineffective and Dangerous.”

Harvard Health Review: “Got an Ear Full? Here’s some advice.”

Ernst, E. Journal of Laryngology and Otology, published online, March 2006.

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