Ear Candling May Be Trendy, But It's A Dangerous Hot Mess

by Annie Reneau
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Holy smokes, do ear candling folks love their ear candles.

If you’re one of those people, and you clicked on this post, ear candles in hand, ready for fightin’ words, relax. You and I would probably be friends. I’m totally the kind of person would check out ear candling on the recommendation of a friend.

In fact, I have had several friends and family members recommend ear candling. I live in the world of natural remedies, essential oils, herbal tinctures, and the like. I’ve kicked every one of my kids’ ear infections with olive oil and garlic. I recently cured a raging UTI with nutritional supplements my midwife friend recommended from the health food store. I’m all about that natural life.

But that doesn’t mean I buy into every alternative trend that comes along. Some are nothing but nonsense, while some are not only time-tested, but scientifically proven to work. Garlic is a well-known antibacterial, for example. Sometimes science takes a while to catch onto alternative remedies, but that doesn’t mean everything in the alternative medicine world is effective or safe.

Ear candling is one of those things that sounds just woo-woo enough to be intriguing to folks like me. And when you hear people’s personal success stories, it may be tempting to try it.

Here’s where I pause to apologize to those of you who don’t swim in natural medicine circles. You’re probably wondering what the heck ear candling even is. I’ll explain:

An ear candle is a hollow cone, shaped like a tapered candle, about a foot long. They’re usually made out of unbleached linen dipped in paraffin, beeswax, or soy wax. A person lies down on their side, and the “candle” is inserted into the ear and lit. A paper plate or towel is used to protect the outer ear and side of the head from drips while the candle burns down to a few inches. The whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

According to candling enthusiasts, the burning candle is supposed to create a vacuum, sucking the ear wax out of the ear and into the hollow core of the candle. People claim that they feel better, hear better, and have less ear wax after candling. They also point out that when you cut open the candle stub, you see a bunch of gunk that looks like ear wax.

I get the draw. One of my kids has had mega ear wax issues since she was a baby. As a teen, it’s caused her some issues with dizziness, and we had to have her ears flushed out at the doctor’s once to get a plug of wax out. I can see why a non-invasive way to remove it sounds intriguing.

However, I haven’t tried ear candling because I’ve researched it. And despite claims from people who use ear candles, there is no evidence that they actually work. The gunk that builds up in the bottom of the candle shows up there even if the candle is burned outside of the ear—it’s just wax and soot buildup from the burning candle itself.

Studies done on ear candles have shown that no vacuum is created when they are burned in the ear. Even if a vacuum were created, there’s no way it would be strong enough to suck ear wax out–a vacuum that strong would also be strong enough to rupture your eardrum.

The other reason I won’t try ear candling is that it comes with serious risks. Generally speaking, inserting anything that’s on fire into any orifice in your body is not a good idea. Doctors report injuries including internal and external burns, ear canal occlusions, and eardrum perforations as a result of ear candling.

So, in a nutshell, ear candling has been proven not to work to remove ear wax and it’s potentially dangerous–both reason enough for me to say no thanks.

Some people do swear by ear candling, not for removing ear wax but as a form of relaxation. Apparently, the sound of fire crackling in your ear while you lie still for 15 minutes is very soothing. However, to me that’s a bit like how smoking a cigarette is relaxing because it forces you to inhale deeply. You can get the same effect by other means without risking your health.

Again, I’m all for natural and alternative healing methods—unless they’ve repeatedly been proven ineffective and risky. Ear candling has been tested, and it has failed.

Some things, whether they are new trends or ancient practices, are simply superstition or quackery and aren’t worth continuing.

I’ll keep my neti pot and my probiotics, and let ear candling go the way of bloodletting. The evidence for it just isn’t there.