Ear candling is a popular practice among some alternative lay practitioners.
It involves placing a hollow wax cone (a ‘candle’) in the ear. The candle is then lit on fire and allowed to burn down within a few inches of the ear.
The theory I’ve most commonly heard about how it works is that the flame creates a vacuum which sucks ear wax out of the ear. If you split open the stub of the candle after having used it you will find it filled with dark chunks of wax.
With reasonable precautions ear candling is generally safe.
Years ago I had it done to me and did it to a few others. None of us had any problems. That’s not to say it’s totally safe however. The most obvious issue is you have fire inches above the side of your head.
Reported injuries with ear candling include: hair catching on fire, burns to the side of the head, ear, and ear canal, blockage of the ear canal with wax and rupture of the ear drum.
So ear candling is not an exceptionally dangerous nor especially safe procedure. If you’re determined to use an ear candle it’s important to take the proper precautions to protect yourself.
But the real question is, does it work?
To the best of my knowledge there are no published studies on ear candling. An informal poll of my Naturopathic colleagues representing several hundred years of combined practice says no. A number of doctors have looked in the ears with an otoscope (the device doctors use to look in your ears) before and after patients have done ear candles and reported no change in the amount of wax. Others have burned the candles without putting them in an ear, cut them open and found the same wax in the stub. All evidence points to the fact that the wax in the stub is from the candle itself, not from anyone’s ear.
The bottom line is: ear candling presents too much risk for not enough benefit. It does not seem to clear the ears of wax and occasionally people get hurt. As one of my colleagues said, having to dig candle wax out of someone’s ear is no fun.
If ear wax build-up is a problem for you, it’s best to let a physician clean it out professionally.
If your situation doesn’t allow you the opportunity to have a professional do it, I would much rather see someone do a proper ear rinse than an ear candle. If you feel you must do it yourself (and I am not recommending you do) the safest way to rinse your ears out is to start by piercing a capsule of docusate sodium (stool softener available in any pharmacy that works exceptionally well on ear wax) and squeeze the liquid inside into the ear (throw the capsule away). Keep your head tilted to keep the solution in your ear for 10-15 minutes, then using a large syringe or bulb GENTLY squeeze warm water into the ear with that ear facing toward the ground to flush out the docusate and wax. You may need to repeat several times over the course of a few days to clear the wax out.
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