Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
Ear candling (sometimes called ear coning) is a procedure reported to clean and unstop clogged ears. It starts with a piece of cotton or linen that has been dipped in wax, formed into a long, narrow cone and allowed to dry. The cone is inserted into the ear and lit.
Those who prescribe and perform the procedure believe that the smoke of the burning “candle” moves down the cone and creates a vacuum that draws out wax and other debris from the ear canal. When the procedure is done, there is a residue on the inside of the candle that proponents say is what the candle has drawn out of the ear.
The wax that the body naturally produces in the ear is called cerumen and it is produced for a reason – it’s beneficial. Cerumen helps to lubricate the ear and protect it from bacteria and fungus. The ear itself has a self-cleaning mechanism that naturally removes excess cerumen. In fact, most people do not require additional cleaning. Of course there can be a breakdown of this natural process that results in a condition called cerumen impaction that does require intervention.
In general, an ear candling session at a spa will last somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. In most situations the patient lies on his or her side with a protective barrier around the base of the candle to keep any melted wax from burning the skin. The procedure is then repeated on the other ear. There are also kits that you can purchase to use at home.
Many people who have had this procedure done report it to be a soothing and relaxing process and swear by the results, citing it as a remedy to fluid buildup and even tinnitus. To be fair, ear candling is often accompanied by a shoulder massage and a luxurious spa experience, so the soothing relaxation may not be fully attributed to the candling process itself.
On the other side of the coin are the detractors – the people who report no change to the condition of the ears. Some have even reported burns from dripping wax both outside and inside the ear – and no amount of spa ambience can make up for that.
Over the last decade or more there have been several studies of ear candling that have shed some light on the procedure. According to a 1996 study published in The Laryngoscope, ear candles do not create a vacuum in the ear canal, nor do they remove any wax. In fact, some wax from the candles themselves was shown to have been deposited into some ears.
The overall opinion of medical experts and those who have conducted the studies is that ear candling does not remove wax or other debris from the ear. Furthermore, given the chance of injury to the tender tissue inside the ear canal from dripping wax, the procedure can be dangerous. With no evidence to prove its effectiveness and legitimate dangers involved, ear candling may be a spa indulgence to avoid. The luxurious massage, however, is a must.