Ear candles or ear wax candles are a popular complementary medicine treatment where cotton soaked in wax creates a tube. The tube is then inserted into the ear canal and burned. Proponents claim this method helps congestion, ear wax, sinuses, and more. However, whether this method is beneficial and safe is still very much debated.
Ear candling has become a hot alternative treatment method. Not only can you find ear candles online and in health stores, but there are also instructions all over the internet to make your own. While there are diehard proponents of ear candling, some very real safety concerns have arisen from this trend. As such, this treatment is generally not recommended for children and you should check with a health care provider before attempting ear candling, even on adults.
The most commonly reported safety concerns were burns, obstruction and ear drum perforation.
One of the most common safety concerns of ear candling is accidental burning. The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery noted that burns were one of the most common injuries of ear candling. If done improperly, the burning wax from the candle can be spilt on the ear and burn the skin around the ear or even the inner ear.
Dr. Courtney Voelker, M.D. also noted that hot wax can get deposited into the eardrum from the canal and create an obstruction. Another issue noted with this method is that sticking the candle into the ear can push the ear wax further down into the ear, creating an impaction of ear wax.
Whether this is from sticking the candle too far into the ear canal or from the wax burning a hole into the eardrum, this is a valid safety concern. In fact, a survey of 122 otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors) revealed 21 ear injuries caused by ear candling, including one perforating the eardrum.
Can Ear Candling Help?
Nothing comes without risks, but if it works, many people believe it is worth it. Unfortunately, the research doesn't support ear candling. In fact, the medical evidence showing the ineffectiveness of this method is very strong.
While ear candling has been used for centuries to cleanse the ear and help relieve pain and pressure, many medical professionals state those claims are simply untrue. There are two significant studies that debunk the main claims of ear wax candling.
According to proponents of ear candling, when you insert the candle into your ear and light it, the smoke creates a vacuum effect that removes debris, toxins and wax from the ear. However, a 1996 study by Seely, Quigley and Langman showed that there isn't a pressure change during ear candling.
Additionally, the toxins that appear to be drawn out from the ear from the candling process are simply the powder from the burning of the candle itself. There was also a negative side effect noted with the residue from the candle actually depositing itself into the ear as well. This could create further issues down the road.
Another theory of how candling works is that it heats up the wax in the ear, allowing it to melt and naturally drain out of the ear in the coming days. However, this was also debunked through a research study by Health Canada.
This study found that the air temperature while the candle was burning was still lower than the core body temperature, meaning this would not affect the wax within the ear. A clinical trial also went on to further prove the fact that candling does not affect ear wax.
The Research Says It All
While many users of ear candling will rave of the benefits of this method, medical research about the safety and effectiveness have concluded this method is ineffective and even dangerous. There have been burns, impaction and perforations reported. Additionally, there hasn't been any evidence to support the benefits of this method; rather, the research shows ear wax candling really does not do much at all besides deposit residue in the ear.