Maybe you've heard of ear candling, otherwise known as thermal auricular therapy or ear coning. Proponents say that it can improve hearing by drawing out earwax, and that it is also an effective technique for treating sinus infections by removing what's causing that "stuffy" feeling.
But if you're suspicious of a technique that involves lighting a cone-shaped, 10-inch long hollow candle before placing the opposite end in your ear, you are right to be. Though people say that the heat from the flame creates suction that makes your earwax "melt" out through the candle, much evidence and many experts refute this idea, saying that - in fact - ear candling is both extremely dangerous and ineffective.
Risk for injury
According to Dr. Eric Mann, the Food and Drug Administration's clinical deputy director of Ophthalmic, Neurological, and Ear, Nose, and Throat devices, not only is ear candling unsafe but it is ineffective:
"FDA believes that there is no valid scientific evidence for any medical benefit from their use," Mann said.
In contrast, he warned of various potential risks - all vary serious - to using candling:
- Puncturing the eardrum by inserting candles. People should never insert anything into their ear canals.
- Burns to the ear canal, eardrum, middle ear and face.
- Injury to the ear from hot, dripping wax.
- Starting a fire
- Having ears plugged by candle wax
- Not getting proper treatment for the underlying medical condition, such as hearing loss, sinus and ear infections, tumor, earwax buildup or TMJ disorders
So-called "candlers" claim that their practice is based on the laws of science, physics and the human body. However, none of this is true. Here are some common claims by proponents of candling, as well as why their statements are false:
Connections in our head allow us to drain everything through the ear
This is completely false. While arteries, lymph systems, veins and neural networks all connect throughout our bodies, there are no open passages that allow fluids from the sinuses to pass through the ear drum.
Oxygen from a lit candle creates a vacuum to draw out wax
In fact, this isn't possible - there isn't enough force for a vacuum. Ear wax naturally works its way toward the outer ears very slowly on its own.
Ear wax buildup
If you have earwax buildup, also called a cerumen blockage, the best thing to do is to avoid putting anything in your ears - including cotton swabs. Instead, visit an audiologist or another hearing health care professional who is skilled at removing ear wax. He or she can also provide you with information on maintaining ear and hearing health and what to do if you have ears that produce more wax than others. Remember that ear wax is actually beneficial in keeping debris and skin cells away from the ear drum. In most cases, there is no reason to actively remove ear wax from your ear canal.