You've probably heard crazy stories about people holding burning candles in their ear to clean out wax —and if you have ear problems, you might have even considered giving it a try. Hell, you're here right now, so obviously your interest is piqued. Ear candling (also referred to as coning) has been around for ages, so there must be benefits, right?
It's safe to say that ear candling is a polarizing subject — some sing its praises, while others offer harsh warnings to stay far, far away. We investigated a little to get the real low-down on coning.
In short, it is an alternative medicine technique which uses a burning candle in hopes to remove earwax and debris from your inner ear.
The process starts when a practitioner inserts a lit, cone-shaped candle (made of muslin and dipped in paraffin) into the ear canal. As the candle burns, warm smoke fills your ear, which supposedly loosens wax and other debris. It's said that a vacuum-effect sucks the wax into the cone, which is then removed from your ear.
"The candling therapy is actually a cleaning of the eustachian tubes. As the cone burns, the burnt beeswax forms a slightly tacky powdery smoke is pushed into the tube, the sticky particles adhere to toxins and incoming smoke causes them to return to the cone to be collected, as the blocked tube is in itself a closed channel," claims the website of Cura Salon & Spa in Sparta, Wisconsin. "The heat from the paraffin cones does stimulate the acupressure points, which is a good thing."
According to patient.info, the eustachian tubes (shown in yellow in the picture below) are actually the narrow tubes that connects the space behind the eardrum (the middle ear) with the back of the nose — so if all the claims are true, ear candling is really getting all up in your business.
The practice has been around thousands of years and was believed to be used as a hygiene practice by the ancient Egyptians, but today you can have it done in holistic spas for about $35 to $50.
Many practitioners believe ear candling detoxifies the lymphatic system and clears the sinuses, which in turn improves the clarity of hearing, sight, smell and taste. There's also claims that coning can relieve swimmer's ear, alleviate pain, ease discomfort associated with allergies, reduce stress, and equalize pressure in the ear.
Some practitioners believe even more powerful effects can occur, such as subtle changes in energy that result in greater emotional stability and an overall sense of well-being. Doesn't sound like a bad deal, right?
If you ask anyone that practices western medicine how they feel about ear candling, they'll probably tell you it's a huge waste of time. Apparently, there are solid barriers (like an eardrum) that would stop the smoke from cleaning out the pathways deep in your ear and prevent it from getting into eustachian tubes, according to WebMD.
Also, earwax, especially when impacted, is sticky and would require strong suction to pull it out — and WebMD points to an uncited study that found there was no suction force whatsoever during a candling procedure. On top of that, temperatures produced by the candle were below body temperature, far too low to melt the wax.
Some practitioners will take out the candle after ear candling and show you all the wax and funk on the end (um, ew — but probably oddly satisfying), however a doctor will most likely tell you not to believe the hype. Studies have revealed that the contents that show up on the end of the candle are usually a blend of burned candle wax and fabric.
Not only that, doctors believe the practice can actually do damage.
"The claimed benefits of ear candling are based on dangerous, illogical and incorrect assumptions. Ear candling is in fact a dangerous, ill-conceived and potentially disfiguring protocol, with no foundation in science." said Dr. Beck, audiologist and Editor-In Chief of www.healthyhearing.com and www.audiologyonline.com, via Audiology Online. "Candling demonstrates ignorance regarding the basic laws of physics and blatant disregard for anatomy and physiology."
So what's dangerous about it? According to the Mayo Clinic ear candling comes with the following hazards:
And then there's this anecdote from Audiology Online: "In 2000, a woman in Toronto paid a 'candler' $25 for a session of ear candling. During the session, hot wax from the candle ran down her ear canal and adhered to her eardrum. The woman reported it ultimately took four months to remove the wax entirely from her ear canal. She now lives with permanent ringing in the ears."
Um, yeah. No thanks.
So should you try ear candling? Holistic treatments don't always get the greenlight from western medicine, but that doesn't mean they're totally bunk. If you're suffering from ear trouble, it might be worth the $50 bucks to give ear candling a try.
But just say "no" to home practice. If injuries can occur in a facility that regularly practices ear candling, we can only imagine the horror stories that come from trying this out at home. Find a reputable, high-end facility with great reviews before you give coning a whirl. Just keep in mind that you might be disappointed.
And if you don't want to try it, the Mayo Clinic suggests you consult your doctor about simple steps you can take to safely and effectively remove ear wax.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.
Originally published May 2008. Updated January 2017.
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