Is ear candling safe or effective?
This article will discuss what ear candling is, whether it is safe, and the potential side effects of the practice.
What is ear candling?
Ear candles are not a safe method for removing earwax or other impurities from the ear.
Ear candling, or "coning," is an alternative remedy that some people use to draw out impurities and wax from the inner ear.
Ear candles are typically about 10 inches long, hollow, and tapered. A person lights them at their widest end.
They are usually made of fabric soaked in wax or a mixture of substances, often paraffin and beeswax.
To perform ear candling, a person will lie on their side and insert a candle into the ear. Usually, a square or circle made of paper, tin foil, or plastic acts as a cover to prevent hot wax from dripping onto the face, neck, or hair.
Once the candle and covering are secure, a person will light the candle for 10–20 minutes. Wax does not go into the ear during this process.
Other names for ear candling include:
- ear or auricular coning
- thermal- or thermo-auricular therapy
- candle or coning therapy
What are the proposed benefits?
A person should consult a doctor when they or a child are experiencing ear problems.
There are no scientifically proven benefits of ear candling. However, ear candle manufacturers and practitioners still tout many benefits of ear candling. Some producers even make unfounded claims that they help cure types of cancer.
Some of the other proposed benefits of ear candling include:
- removing wax, bacteria, and other debris from the ear canal
- treating sinus infections
- improving hearing or reversing hearing loss
- relieving sore throats
- treating colds and flus
- relieving headaches and migraines
- improving mental clarity
- purifying the blood
- improving lymphatic circulation
- clearing the eyes and improving vision
- reducing pain related to jaw aches and temporomandibular disorders
- reducing tension and stress
- reducing vertigo
Ear candle makers and supporters claim that the lit candle creates enough warmth to generate suction. This suction pulls impurities and wax out of the ear canal.
However, these claims do not make much sense, and there is currently no research or evidence to show that ear candles do what people claim they do.
Although many people dislike earwax, it is actually a self-cleansing, lubricating, and antibacterial substance for the ear canal. People without enough earwax often have dry, itchy ears.
Earwax naturally works its way out of the ear canal during motions such as chewing or swallowing. Once on the outside of the ear canal, earwax dries up and flakes away.
Earwax can build up in the ear canal. This most often occurs when a person has been digging their finger into their ear and pushing wax deeper into the canal. Anything a person puts in their ear, from cotton swabs to paper clips, can contribute to earwax buildup.
Symptoms of an earwax blockage include:
- earache or pain
- tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
- partial hearing loss
- discharge from the ears
- bad-smelling ears
- itchy ears
- a feeling of the ear being plugged or full
Is it safe?
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ear candling is not safe. They have been warning people to steer clear of the practice and related products since early 2010.
There are many risks associated with ear candling, and there are no scientifically proven benefits.
In a 2016 study, a 16-year-old boy who practiced ear candling for allergies started to experience pain in his ear and reduced hearing. A physician had to remove multiple pieces of candle debris from his eardrum.
The FDA take the public health threat of ear candling seriously. They have also sent warnings to and seized products from ear candle manufacturers and retailers, as well as "coning practitioners."
Risks and side effects
The open flame and melting wax from an ear candle pose a number of health risks.
Major health authorities such as the FDA have warned of the dangers of ear candles for several years.
Some of the potential risks and side effects include:
- burning the face, neck, eardrum, middle ear, or ear canal from hot wax or ash
- starting a fire
- puncturing the eardrum
- blocking the eardrum with candle wax
- contracting secondary infections
- experiencing temporary hearing loss
- developing otitis externa (swimmer's ear)
- causing damage to the middle ear
Such risks increase greatly when children are involved, as they tend to move around during the procedure, which can allow hot wax or ash to fall outside the protection of the covering.
Children also have much smaller ear canals than adults. This makes them more prone to blockages.
By practicing ear candling instead of seeking medical attention, people might also allow underlying infections and other conditions requiring proper treatment to worsen.
Ear candling is a scientifically unproven and potentially unsafe alternative remedy.
The FDA warn people to avoid using ear candles and coning practitioners. Ear candling may be dangerous for children and older adults.