Ear candles: debunking the myths

Learn about the dangers of this controversial practice, as well as safe, evidence-based methods of ear wax removal.

Man receiving ear candle treatment

Are ear candles a safe & effective method of ear wax removal?

Ear candling is an alternative practice that involves inserting a hollow candle into the ear canal and lighting it. Proponents of ear candling believe that the heat and suction generated from the ear candle flame can draw out excess ear wax. However, the efficacy and safety of this practice is widely disputed by researchers and medical professionals.

Join us as we explore the pseudoscience behind ear candling, the potential risks involved, and whether this practice is ever worth considering.

Watch senior audiologist, Adam Bostock, debunk common ear candling myths.

Discover the truth about ear candling, so that you can make an informed decision about its use for your ear health.

What is ear candling?

Ear candling, also known as thermal-auricular therapy or ear coning, is marketed as a natural and non-invasive method of ear wax removal. Ear candling involves inserting a hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear canal. Once lit, the heat generated from the flame is said to create a vacuum effect, drawing out impurities, excess ear wax, and toxins from the ear canal.

Ear candling equipment

Proponents of ear candling also argue that the smoke produced during the ear candling process can have a cleansing effect on the sinuses and believe that it can alleviate a wide range of ear-related issues, including ear wax build-up, hearing loss, tinnitus, sinus congestion, and even improve overall well-being.

The origins of ear candling can be traced back to ancient civilisations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans, who used similar techniques to cleanse the ear and promote healing. In the late 20th century, ear candling has gained popularity as an alternative therapy, marketed as a natural and non-invasive method for improving ear health.

Do ear candles work?

While some advocates of ear candling may swear by its effectiveness for a range of ear related issues, these claims lack scientific evidence and are often based on anecdotal experiences. Research has shown that these users are likely experiencing a placebo effect, where the belief in the effectiveness of a treatment leads to perceived improvements.

The relaxation and sense of well-being experienced by some during an ear candling session may also contribute to the positive testimonials. However, it is important to note that the placebo effect should not be mistaken for evidence-based treatment.

Multiple scientific studies have consistently shown that ear candling is not effective in removing excessive ear wax or in improving hearing or ear health. Importantly, it has also been shown that the ear candling process may even push ear wax deeper into the ear canal, potentially leading to further hearing problems or ear health complications.

Research has shown that the suction created by an ear candle is minimal and insufficient to remove ear wax effectively. The residue found in the candle after ear candling, which is often attributed to ear wax removed from the ear canal, has been found to be burnt wax from the candle itself, and is produced even when the candle is lit away from the ear.

Is ear candling safe?

As well as studies showing that ear candling does not effectively remove ear wax, a number of potential risks to ear health and safety concerns have been associated with the practice.

The heat generated by the ear candle flame risks burns to the skin, hair, and face, or damage to the delicate structures of the ear, if not carefully monitored. There have been reported cases of eardrum perforation, external ear canal burns, and temporary hearing loss resulting from ear candling.

Rather than having a cleansing effect on the sinuses, the smoke produced from ear candles has been shown to contain harmful substances and has the potential to cause respiratory irritation.

Additionally, it’s worth remembering that ear candling practitioners are not recognised healthcare professionals, and therefore may not follow strict hygiene practices, including the use of clean and sterile equipment.

What are effective & safe methods of ear wax removal?

There are a number of safe and effective, evidence-based methods available for removing excessive ear wax and maintaining ear health. One commonly recommended method is the use of eardrops or olive oil to soften the ear wax, followed by gentle microsuction, irrigation, or syringing by a qualified healthcare professional.

Audiologist performing microsuction ear wax removal on a female customer
Ear wax removal using gentle microsuction.

Regular cleaning of the outer ear with a warm facecloth can also help maintain ear hygiene. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper hydration, can contribute to overall ear health and reduce the risk of ear wax build-up.

Find out more about evidence-based, professional ear wax removal methods.

Conclusion: should you try ear candling?

In conclusion, ear candling is a highly controversial practice that lacks scientific evidence to support its efficacy. While some individuals may report positive experiences, these are attributed to the placebo effect.

The potential risks and safety concerns associated with ear candling far outweigh any perceived benefits. Therefore, if you are experiencing blocked ears or other ear-related issues, it is always best to consult with a qualified healthcare professional who can provide evidence-based treatments that have been proven effective and safe.

Your ear health is too important to rely on unproven and potentially harmful practices like ear candling. Remember, making an informed decision about your health is key, so always seek professional advice before trying alternative therapies.

References:

Seely, D. R., Quigley, S. M., & Langman, A. W. (1996). Ear candles -efficacy and safety. Laryngoscope, 106(10), 1226-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8849790/

Ernst, E. (2004). Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science. J Laryngol Otol, 118(1), 1-2. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14979962/

Article by Adam Bostock

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