Many readers of my newsletter have written to ask why I don’t recommend ear candling.
The answer is simple. From all of my research it appears that ear candling doesn’t work as its proponents claim, and it actually has the potential to be quite dangerous.
There’s no scientific evidence that candling has any real benefits, but there are a significant number of reports of burn injuries caused by the procedure.
A Mysterious History
Although ear candling is thought to be an ancient practice, its origin is unclear.
Places and cultures as diverse as China, Egypt, the pre-Columbian Americas, Tibet, the mythical city of Atlantis, and even the Hopi Indian tribe have been mentioned as having originated the practice. No one seems to know for certain, The Hopi Tribal Council has publicly stated that the Hopi people do not and have never practiced ear candling.
How Candling is Performed
The ear candling procedure itself involves putting a hollow cone-shaped device or “candle,” typically made of linen or cotton soaked in wax or paraffin, in the ear canal, and lighting it on fire.
The person undergoing the procedure lies on his or her side. A paper plate or other collection device is placed above the ear, and the candle is inserted through a hole in the plate into the ear canal. The candle is lit, and trimmed as it burns down.
After the candle burns down and is removed from the ear, a cotton swab is used to clean visible wax from the ear, and oil is sometimes applied as a finishing touch.
What Advocates Claim
Proponents and practitioners of candling maintain the procedure removes wax and other impurities from the ear. The process by which this purportedly happens is as the smoke moves down the candle into your ear and back out again, a vacuum is created that pulls out wax and other debris from your ear into the hollow candle.
Some practitioners offer proof of the success of the procedure by putting the still-warm candle in a bowl of water, claiming everything that floats free -- that isn’t obviously candle wax -- is ear wax, dead skin, toxins, and other debris.
Some even go so far as to claim the debris is actually Candida (yeast).
Other practitioners will offer proof by opening up a just-burned candle, claiming that the residue left behind is ear wax and debris from the client’s ear.
Ear candling is advertised as being helpful for hearing loss, inner ear pain, and relief of tinnitus. Claims also include that candling cleanses your ear canal, cures ear aches, relieves “fluid buildup,” and alleviates sinus pressure.
Some advocates go even further by asserting the procedure “clears” your eyes, fortifies your central nervous system, releases blocked energy, and stabilizes emotions.
Why These Claims Do Not Appear to be Valid
Wax is sticky. The negative pressure required to force wax from your ear canal would need to be so powerful that it would rupture your eardrum in the process.
There is no vacuum effect created by smoke moving down the candle. Research published in the journal Laryngoscope measured this pressure and concluded that no negative pressure was created. The same research also revealed that no ear wax was removed during candling, and that candle wax was actually deposited in some test subjects’ ears.
Removal of debris from the ear is based on the claim that the eardrum is porous and allows impurities to pass through. This is just not true. The debris that appears inside the burned candle and/or in the collection device is nothing more than ashes from the wick and wax from the candle itself.
Playing With Fire
Not only is ear candling ineffective, it can be dangerous.
As mentioned in the Laryngoscope article linked above, a 1996 survey of 144 ear, nose and throat physicians found that 10 percent had seen patients with injuries resulting from ear candling. These injuries included external burns, ear canal obstruction with candle wax, and even a perforated eardrum.
Despite the significant risks involved with the procedure, many people who perform ear candling for profit have no medical background and do not use otoscopes in order to avoid the legalities of practicing medicine without a license.
For an in-depth, graphic account of the case of one woman with self-inflicted wounds caused by ear candling, read this article by Richard Harris, Ph.D., of Brigham Young University.
Why I Don’t Recommend Ear Candling
Aside from the fact that ear candling is a potentially dangerous practice with no proven benefits, even if candling could remove wax from the ear I would advise against it.
The wax in your ears provides a coating that protects your inner ear against water and dust. Ear wax, known in scientific terms as cerumen, is acidic and helps battle bacteria. It is also an anti-fungal.
Ear wax has been designed by nature as a cleaning mechanism for your ear. For most of us, the wax moves through the ear canal and eventually makes it to the outside, taking any dirt and other accumulated matter with it. Only ear wax that has reached the opening of your ear should be removed.
Says Benjamin Asher, chairman of the committee on alternative medicine for the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery:
"I'm open to a lot of complementary therapies, but I'm not at all impressed with this one."
And according to Dr. David Leopold, director of integrative medical education at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego:
“(At Scripps) we do integrative medicine. We’re always dealing with the ‘alternative’ world. … If it works and it’s safe we want it for our patients. But pretty definitely this is one you shouldn’t try. At the very best it’s not going to work. At the worst it’s going to be dangerous. … It’s not effective and people should stay away.”
How to Deal with a Chronic Ear Wax Problem
Frequently, the cause of excessive wax buildup is an omega-3 deficiency. If you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, I recommend supplementing with with a high quality source of animal based omega three oil like krill oil.
If wax in your ear becomes impacted, read here for steps you can take to remedy the situation.