A Bad Way to Try Removing Earwax
The most commonly used ear wax removal methods we discuss with our patients can be very effective when used appropriately and with proper oversight. However, a few remedies (ear candling is one) have no redeeming qualities and often cause more harm than good. While some people swear that ear candling has helped them treat anything from earwax to tinnitus and other significant conditions of the ear, there is absolutely no data to support that this is the case.
What is ear candling?
These candles are distinct from those you would put on a birthday cake in that they are typically fabric cones soaked in wax, allowing them to be lighted on one end. They are about 10 inches long and hollow. When performed at home, a hole is cut in a paper plate through which the candle is inserted. This plate collects dripping wax to help prevent burns on the face.
While lying on your side, the candle is inserted into the ear, and a second person lights it. The theory states that the heat generated by the candle works two ways to remove built-up earwax. First, the flame creates light suction that draws earwax out of the ear canal. Secondly, the heat from the candle gently melts the earwax allowing it to move more freely. Unfortunately, both claims have been debunked.
- Earwax is a very sticky substance, and the amount of suction required to remove it would not only be significantly more than what a candle could possibly provide and would likely damage the ear’s structure.
- Second, the candle’s heat delivered to the ear canal is often no more than normal body heat, meaning that the ear wax would not be melted in any way within the ear canal.
But what about the residue within the hollow candle?
Often, ear candling providers or home candling kits refer to the inside of the candle and all the debris that has been “suctioned” out of the ear canal. Unfortunately, this usually does not consist of earwax but rather the residue from the candle itself melting. As mentioned above, there is no evidence that debris from within the ear is suctioned using ear candling.
The dangers of ear candling
The problems associated with ear candling are far greater than any possible benefits. Even the FDA has weighed in to say that ear candling should not be practiced, considering it dangerous with no proven benefits. There are many cases of serious injury even when using candles according to directions. Some of the most common problems include
- Burns to the face and outer ear.
- Burns and damage to the ear canal.
- Damage to the eardrum and even perforation.
- Worsened earwax issues.
The FDA’s take
The FDA is unequivocal about the use of ear candling, offering its first warning in 2010. Today, a quick Google search shows it is classified as a health fraud scam on their website as of 2015. In fact, as of October 2022, the FDA has placed an import alert on ear candles. These candles can be held without examination, so they do not reach the market. Ear candles have been designated a medical device by The Center for Devices in Radiological Health. As such, many foreign exporters of these products have been added to the FDA’s red list because of misleading labeling and the lack of scientific evidence to support their use.
The Bottom Line
Our stance here is also unequivocal. Please do not use ear candling as a therapeutic option for earwax or tinnitus. Frankly, there is no good use for this purported remedy, no matter how satisfying it may feel. If you have earwax issues, we encourage you to explore one of the many tried and true home remedies we discuss on this website like Debrox and hydrogen peroxide or come into the office for a professional earwax evaluation.