Ear candles are hollow cones made of fabric covered in paraffin wax, beeswax, or soy wax. Most ear candles are about a foot in length. The pointed end of the candle is placed in your ear. The slightly wider end is lit.
Proponents of this treatment, called ear candling, claim that the warmth created by the flame causes suction. The suction pulls earwax and other impurities out of the ear canal and into the hollow candle.
To prepare for the procedure, you lie on your side with one ear facing down. The practitioner inserts the pointed end of the candle into the hole of the ear that’s facing up and adjusts it to create a seal. You shouldn’t perform the procedure on yourself because it can be dangerous.
In most cases, a circular guard of some sort is placed about two-thirds of the way down the candle to catch any dripping wax. These are often flimsy and made of aluminum foil or paper plates.
Cautious practitioners will cover your head and neck with a towel for more protection. Guidelines also suggest holding the candle straight so any drippings roll down the side rather than dropping into the ear or onto the face.
The candle is allowed to burn for about 10 to 15 minutes. During that time, the burned part of the fabric is supposed to be trimmed to prevent it from contaminating the tube.
The procedure continues until only 3 to 4 inches of the candle remain. Then the flame is extinguished carefully. Blowing it out while it’s still in the ear can cause hazardous burning ash to go flying.
Marketers of ear candles advertise them as treatments for:
- earwax buildup
- swimmer’s ear or ear infections
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- hearing problems
- sinus infections or other sinus conditions
- symptoms of a cold or the flu
- sore throat
- vertigo or dizziness
- stress and tension
After the procedure, the practitioner usually cuts the candle open vertically to show the patient the material that was drawn out of the ear.
But is that really what that dark-colored matter is?
According to the American Academy of Audiology, there is no scientific evidence that ear candling pulls out debris from the ear canal. Scientific measurements of the ear canals before and after candling show no reduction in earwax. Researchers even found an increase in wax because of the wax deposited by the candles.
In a study published in the Iranian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology, scientists noted the experience of a 33-year-old women who came to an ear clinic because of pain inside her ear. After doctors examined her, they found a yellowish mass in the ear canal. She mentioned that she had recently undergone an ear candling procedure at a massage center. Doctors determined the mass was formed from candlewax that had dropped into her ear. When they removed it, the woman’s symptoms went away.
While there is no reliable evidence showing any benefits of ear candling, there is plenty showing its potential risks and harms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to consumers and healthcare providers not to use ear candles because they can cause serious injuries, even when used according to directions.
The FDA adds that they have found no valid scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of ear candling. Instead, they have received reports of people who experienced these negative effects from using ear candles:
- perforated eardrums
- ear canal blockages that required surgery
Ear candling increases the risk of these injuries:
- burns to the face, outer ear, eardrum, and inner ear
- burns resulting from starting a fire
- candle wax falling into the ear and causing a plug or inner ear damage
- damage to the eardrum
- hearing loss
Ear candling can be especially dangerous for small children. The FDA notes that children and babies are at increased risk of injuries and complications from ear candles.
Although some people go through the process of ear candling without significant injury, the practice requires time and money. There’s also substantial long-term risk.
Possible complications of candling include:
- ear canal blockages
- ear drum perforations
- secondary ear canal infections
- hearing loss
- ash coating the eardrum
Ask your doctor about methods other than ear candling for removing wax buildup. Often, your doctor can arrange a flushing that can remove earwax. If you need more than this, you might try the following:
- Ask your doctor about other approved treatments.
- Use earwax softening drops, which you can buy at a local pharmacy.
- Flush your ear with warm water using a bulb-type syringe. You can purchase the syringe at a local pharmacy.
If you have any other problems with your ears, you should make an appointment with an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in conditions of the ears, nose, and throat.