Hearing management

Updated 18 April 2018

What on earth is 'ear candling' and does it work?

Can this bizarre treatment clear blocked ears? We investigate.

Would you stick a candle in your ear to get rid of wax build-up? There are people who swear by ear candling, a form of alternative treatment where an "ear candle", a hollow tube from fabric which is dipped into paraffin, is placed in your ear and heated at the outside end.

 According to the Journal of Laryngology & Otology, ear candles are hollow tubes coated with wax which are inserted into patients’ ears and then lit at the far end. The procedure is also used as a complementary therapy for a wide range of conditions such as sinus problems, ear infections, head colds, flu and general fatigue.

Many of those who practice ear candling further claim that it drains all "passages" in the head via the tympanic membrane (ear drum), boosting your overall wellbeing.

Why does ear candling supposedly work?

As the candle burns, it reportedly creates a vacuum that pulls debris and wax out of your ear, ridding your ear canal of bacteria and toxins that can cause ear infections.

Dedicated users claim that clearing the pathways in your head helps with fatigue and headaches and also drains the lymphatic system.

Watch the tongue-in-cheek video below if you want to see how it's done. 

The science behind the candle

But is this holistic treatment all it’s cracked up to be?

Medical researchers don’t think so. The above claims may sound appealing, but to date there has been no data to prove that ear candling works.

Research shows that ear candling is not effective at removing wax and can actually push ear wax deeper into the ear canal.

One study compared ears before and after ear candling. There was no reduction in the amount of ear wax in the study participants’ ear canals – in fact, in some cases the wax had become impacted.

And as for the claim that clear ears also clear up a slew of other health problems? That also appears to be a myth.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, the notion that the whole ear system can drain through one ear, clearing the ear canals in their entirety is false. Liquids and gases are unable to pass through a healthy ear drum. And as far as "interconnected passages of the head" are concerned, there actually are no interconnected passages besides veins and arteries, the nerve system and the lymphatic system, none of which can be “drained” through the ear canal.

It can be dangerous too

Ear candling isn't only ineffective, it can actually be dangerous.

According to the Journal of Laryngology & Otology, ear candling is often associated with injuries, since people buy the candles from health shops and do ear candling at home. This can lead to burns and deposits of candle wax in the ear canal, which can ultimately lead to infection and ear drum puncture.

The verdict?

According to Health24, many people choose home remedies for earache or blocked ears to avoid costly trips to the doctor. However, it's difficult to determine what exactly is causing the wax build-up or earache since you can't examine your ear canals at home. Pain can be caused by a tiny hole in the eardrum and wax build-up can be generated by a fungal infection of the ear, or it may be an outer ear infection that needs to be treated by a doctor.

If you suffer from a blocked ear, consult your doctor. They will extract the wax build-up or prescribe an antibiotic to clear an ear infection.

If you are prone to wax build-up or ear infections, it is recommended that you visit an ear-, nose- and throat specialist every six months to remove wax build-up and have a regular examination. Any ongoing or chronic problem needs to be addressed by a specialist.

Image credit: iStock 


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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