Ear candling doesn’t work (and it’s dangerous)

I’ve posted before about the frighteningly ill-advised health tips I see perpetuated on Pinterest: How NOT to whiten your teeth

Another non-scientific and potentially dangerous home treatment that I frequently see pinned is ear candling.

Ear candling involves placing a specially-designed candle (or cone) into one ear and lighting a wick at the other end. Theoretically, the heat from the flame creates a mild vacuum pressure that draws “impurities” out of the ear.

By impurities, one would immediately think ear wax, but proponents of ear candling believe it does so much more. A short list of of the “benefits” of ear candling include treating headache, sinusitis, allergies, vertigo, tinnitus, loss of hearing, ear infections, depression, anxiety, fatigue and more.

How is this possible? I read one blog that stated:

The theory if [sic] ear candling is based on the cleaning effects are possible because all passages in the head are interconnected, which allows the candles to drain the entire system osmotically through the membrane of the ear.  

A physician on the great website Quackwatch (Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud and Intelligent Decisions) puts us straight:

Since wax is sticky, the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process. However, candling produces no vacuum. Researchers who measured the pressure during candling of ear models found that no negative pressure was created. The same investigators candled eight ears and found that no ear wax was removed and candle wax was actually deposited in some of them!

The notion that the ear canal is connected to structures beyond the eardrum is false. A review of a good anatomy book should dispel this notion. The external ear canal, with an intact eardrum, is not connected to the brain, the sinuses targeted by the procedure (those above your eyes), or the Eustachian tubes (the passageways between the internal ear and the back of the throat). While some claim that the eardrum is porous and quickly allows impurities to pass through, this is untrue. The “impurities” that appear in the collected wax (usually on a paper plate or other collecting device) are nothing more than the ashes from the burnt wick and wax of the cone itself.

The dangers of ear candling include burns to the ear or face (or house if you’re not careful), a perforated ear drum, or wax (from the candle and/or your natural ear wax) being impacted into your ear canal.

But even though these products are neither safe nor effective, they are easily available from many stores and online.

Technically they are medical devices and should be illegal to sell without approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At best, they are marketed more like supplements and carry the standard disclaimer on their packaging:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Related post: The Quack Miranda Warning

In other words, buy and use at your own risk.

If you have a problem with ear wax—ears are self-cleaning and don’t need to be cleaned under usual circumstances—you can clean your ears easily and safely by following the directions on another great website, The Survival Doctor: How to clean out your ears at home.

Take care of your ears and save your candles for power outages or romantic dinners!

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

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