After my blog, “Cotton swabs linked to ruptured eardrums,” a reader wrote, “Dr. Walt, what do you think about ear candles?” I thought I had blogged about ear candles in the past, but cannot find it. So, here’s an update about them:‘Ear Candles’ are also known by a variety of other names, including, : Auricular Candles, Chandelles Auriculaires, Ear Candle, Ear Candle Therapy, Ear Candle Treatment, Ear Coning, and Thermal-Auricular Therapy.
Ear candling is used for clearing earwax and toxins from the ear canal. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD), “It is also used for sinusitis, sinus pain, otitis media, tinnitus, vertigo, and improving cognitive function.”
As to the safety of ear candles, NMCD rates them as “POSSIBLY UNSAFE … when an ear candle is used in the ear.” There is concern that ear candling might cause ear canal occlusion with candle wax, temporary hearing loss, and other significant adverse effects.
As for using them during pregnancy or breast feeding, NMCD says there is “insufficient reliable information available; avoid using.”
As to how they work, the procedure involves insertion of a hollow candle into the ear canal. The candle is lit and left in place for several minutes. It is theorized that the heat and suction from the hollow candle will suck out substances from the ear.
However, according to NMCD, “research shows that ear candles do not have these effects.When the candle is removed a discolored, often brown, waxy substance often appears in the candle stub. Ear candling practitioners believe that this is ear wax, bacteria, or other material extracted from the ear canal.However, there is no reliable evidence that ear candling can remove earwax or treat other conditions.”
Not only are is there NO evidence of effectiveness, there can be significant adverse reactions to using them. The NMCD says, “Ear candling has been linked to several adverse effects in case reports and a survey of otolaryngologists. The most frequently reported adverse effect is burns from the lighted candle or hot wax. Other potential adverse effects include occlusion of the ear canal with candle wax, temporary hearing loss, otitis externa (swimmer’s ear), and tympanic membrane (ear drum) perforation.”
The editors of the NMCD add, “Ear candles are legal in the US; however, they cannot be promoted as a treatment for medical conditions including ear wax build up.”
Furthermore, ear candles are not permitted in Canada and in Europe ear candles are regulated as medical devices.
So, what’s my recommendation about ear candles?
Avoid them like the plague.