Ear-candling involves placing a tube of cloth into your ear canal and getting a trusted friend to set the top of it alight. Exactly where this started is cited as many places, but most commonly it is referred to as Hopi Ear Candling, a fact which the Hopi tribe of Native Americans dispute strongly.
Wherever they originated, the claim is that the process creates a low-level suction force which draws wax and other debris out of the ear canal. Some people claim that this process claim that impurities are also drawn from the sinuses or even the brain itself, although exactly how this works is vauge at best.
Most ear candles are relatively cheap, ranging between £5 to £10 in the UK. They can be made of either linen or cotton, which is usually left unbleached because practitioners of ear-candling claim that chlorine is bad for the ears. These cloth tubes are soaked in wax or paraffin and allowed to harden – although some manufacturers only use pure beeswax because they claim that paraffin is a carcinogenic. Some waxes contain herbs or other substances, included sage, chamomile, rose, rosemary, burdock, and many others.
Most instruction direct the person undergoing the procedure to lie on their side. A collecting plate is placed above the ear, and the candle is inserted through a hole in the plate and into the ear canal. The candle is lit, and usually trimmed as the wick burns down. Some practitioners use a toothpick to maintain a hole in the top of the hollow candle so that it maintains its ‘chimney-like’ appearance. Once the candle is blown out and removed, a cotton swab is used to gently remove visible earwax from the ear.
Why This Does Not Work
Since earwax is naturally sticky, the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process. Ear-candling has been tested, and it does not produce any form of suction whatsoever. Researchers who measured the pressure during candling have found that no negative pressure is created.
The notion that the ear canal is in any way connected to structures beyond the eardrum is also false. Anyone with a basic knowledge of anatomy – or access to a local library – should be able to realise this very quickly. The external ear canal, with an intact eardrum, is not connected to the brain or the sinuses.
Candling poses several very real dangers. The most serious of which are caused by the hot wax or paraffin from the candle dripping into the ear. There have been cases where this has actually punctured the eardrum, requiring surgery in order to reverse the damage. Even when this does not puncture the eardrum, the added wax can cause ear canal blockages which require minor surgery in order to remove.
There have also been cases where people have been burned or fires have been started by the use of ear candles.
Given that adding things to the ear can bring with it the chance of infection, and ear candles go reasonably deeply into the ear canal, they also bring with them a serious risk of secondary ear canal infections of various kinds.
In short, ear candling is a dangerous and useless procedure, and places those who use it at significant risk without offering any documented benefits whatsoever.