Ear candling is an alternative practice that proponents believe will help remove ear wax.
How is Ear Candling Done?
Ear candling requires the use of ear candles. Ear candles are made of cotton or linen that's wound into a cone shape, soaked in wax, and then allowed to harden.
This hollow candle is inserted through a hole in a plate specially designed to collect wax, and placed into the external ear canal. The candle is lit at the opposite end.
Proponents of ear candling claim that this creates a low-level vacuum that draws ear wax and other debris out of the ear and into the hollow candle. After the procedure, a dark, waxy substance is usually left in the stub of the candle.
Many people find it to be a satisfying procedure, because they are told that the dark waxy mass they see is a combination of ear wax and debris.
Proponents of ear candling claim that it can help to remove ear wax and debris from the ear and facial sinuses. The external ear canal, however, is not continuous with the middle ear, sinuses, Eustachian tube, and nasal passages when the ear drum (tympanic membrane) is normal and intact.
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. Critics contend that the dark, waxy debris that remains after ear candling is waxy candle remains, not ear wax.
There are some potential risks involved in ear candling:
- Burns to the ear, skin, and hair from the hot wax
- Obstruction of the ear canal due to wax dripping into the ear
- Perforated ear drum
Is Ear Candling Necessary?
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.
Cerumen impaction affects about 6% of the population and can cause reversible hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing in the ears. It occurs more frequently in individuals with mental retardation and in the older population. Physicians and other health care professionals are required to treat cerumen impaction.
One study published in the journal Laryngoscope evaluated the efficacy and safety of ear candles. The researchers concluded that ear candles did not produce a vacuum. This small preliminary study with eight ears showed that ear candling didn't result in the removal of ear wax from the ear canal and even caused candle wax to be deposited in some ears.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada classify ear candles as medical devices and consider the product to pose serious risk of fire, burns, and injury to the ear, surrounding skin, and hair.
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.