ear candling

Many people practice ear candling to address sinus problems, headaches and wax buildup, but the FDA has a different view. (Photo: Tammy Camp/Flickr)

Ear candling is a technique that involves placing a long, hollow, cone-shaped candle into one’s ear, and lighting the other end. The candle that is used is made of fabric covered in wax. It is believed that the lit candle, which is burned down to within 2 to 4 inches of the head and then extinguished, creates suction to pull wax and other impurities out of the ear.

The procedure, also called coning and thermal auricular therapy, has been around for centuries. Proponents of ear candling assert that it can cure sinus issues, headaches, wax buildup, and even hearing problems. Ear candling aficionados compare candling to the likes of acupuncture and mud baths in the sense that they are recreational activities used for one’s enjoyment, not necessarily to cure anything. For many, ear candling is simply a soothing, relaxing therapy, rather than being a medical treatment. In fact, many spas these days list ear candling as one of their treatments.

Though ear candling is quite a popular procedure, it has become quite controversial as a result of some negative press over the last 10 to 15 years. And by some, I mean, a lot. Many reputable medical institutions will tell you that ear candling is downright dangerous; it can cause burns to the face, scalp, hair or ear, can leak candle wax into your ear, or worse it can puncture your eardrum. Yikes. There aren’t many spa procedures that have such a laundry list of negatives, so what gives?

The FDA received numerous reports of injuries from ear candling over the past several years, ranging from minor burns to a punctured eardrum, which led it to take a public stand against the practice in 2010. On its website, FDA says ear candling "can cause serious injuries, even when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. … FDA has found no valid scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices for any medical claims or benefits." Pretty harsh language if you ask me. Audiologists also warn that ear candling can even damage your hearing. Further, some research has shown that candling does not create a vacuum or suction effect in the ear, so it might not draw anything out and could possibly leak dangerous wax in.

Still, ear candling persists in the United States. Those who regularly practice ear candling swear by it. In fact, I have a friend who’s done ear candling numerous times, and when I asked her about it in regard to this article, she couldn’t stop extolling its benefits. She even tried to get me to try it by offering to pay for a candling session — I politely declined but said I’d take a massage instead.

I can’t say for sure since I’ve never tried ear candling myself, but I’ll rely on the experts who tell me that it might be unsafe. When I was a kid, my pediatrician always told me that my earwax was magic —helping me fight off infection and also keeping things like flies and flying objects from getting too deep into my ear. Some people say that ear candling works like magic. I’ll take my magic earwax, thank you.

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What is ear candling?
Ear candling has been around for centuries for sinus and ear problems. The practice has many supporters and detractors.