Ear Candling: An unsafe and risky tradition

Many people inquire about ear candling as a method for cleaning ears. There are uncertainties about what it does, whether it works — and if you even really need to have your ears cleaned in the first place.
One important note: if you are concerned about earwax buildup, or if you are having difficulty hearing, you should always consult a hearing care professional before you take any further measures. 
A thorough professional medical assessment is vital, and without guidance you may do significant long term damage — and ear candling is certainly among the procedures with the potential to do so.
ear candling
Medical experts the world over agree: ear candling is archaic and dangerous, and can cause serious injuries, even when used according to directions. 
Ear candling may also distract you from necessary professional care you need for an underlying condition.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has spoken out against ear candling since early 2010. It continues to warn people against the practice, and has even taken measures against importers and practitioners. 

What is ear candling?  

Also known as ear coning and thermal auricular therapy, ear candling is an alternative medicine practice believed to clear the ear, head and circulatory system.
The main element is a hollow candle, generally around 10-12 inches long, which is often tapered at one end. Practitioners also use hollow fabric cones (called ear cones) which are soaked and covered in paraffin or beeswax.
The subject lies on their side, and one end is placed in the ear. The candle is adjusted to create a seal, and often fixed with a guard (of plastic, aluminum or paper) to catch dripping wax. The candle is then lit and allowed to burn down. Occasionally it is cut back. When it is a few inches from the subject’s face it is extinguished. Two candles may be used for each ear, and the whole process may last upwards of an hour.
Practitioners and proponents claim the flame creates negative pressure within the candle (like a chimney) which softens earwax, and then sucks it out. Many practitioners will cut the candle open at the end, to show what was removed — a black or brown substance, which they claim is a mix of earwax debris, bacteria, impurities, toxins and more.
Some also believe ear candling simply softens earwax, so that it can fall out on its own later.

Purported benefits of ear candles

Why do people do it? In addition to removing earwax, proponents of ear candling believe it has a range of holistic benefits which are almost too good to be true.
These include curing or treating:
  • stress and tension
  • dizziness
  • earaches
  • jaw aches
  • bacterial infections
  • cold and flu symptoms
  • sore throats
  • sinus pain
  • migraines
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • swimmer’s ear 
  • vertigo
Further, proponents believe that because all the passageways in your head are connected, ear candling can also improve your sense of taste, strengthen your brain, purify your blood, improve circulation, clear your head, improve your vision and even cure cancer.
These benefits are often presented in a way that sounds scientific to non-medical professionals. 
Practitioners may also sell additional benefits. 
dangers of ear candling

Does ear candling really work?

Something to consider: the FDA has never approved ear candles for any type of medical use. Instead, it has seized ear candling products and threatened manufacturers for importing ear coning candles.
A number of other national governments have also made importing and selling ear candles illegal. Scientific research has also debunked most parts of the ear candling process.
First, most candle flames do not produce sufficient suction to pull liquid from an ear. Earwax, especially, is sticky and resistant. If it is hardened it is nearly impossible to remove this way.
woman removing ear wax
The temperatures produced by ear candles are also generally insufficient to even soften earwax. In some cases, researchers found more earwax inside ears following ear candling.
Finally, the residue inside the ear candle — purportedly debris drawn out — is generally nothing more than burnt paraffin and fabric. When ear candles are burned on their own — far from any ear — they produce the same dark interior residue. 
There remains no scientific basis for ear candling’s efficacy. It is, at best, a very risky placebo.

The dangers of ear candling

Ear candling is not recommended for a variety of reasons, included those mentioned above.
Additionally, earwax may not need to be removed in the first place. Earwax protects your ear’s interior from dust, dead skin, loose hair, bacteria, inflammation and more. It also lubricates the ear and helps it clean itself (by collecting debris and then falling out naturally). This is why medical professionals do not recommend using cotton swabs to clean your ears, and generally advise against most at-home ear cleaning procedures.
Second, your ears are incredibly delicate and sensitive and should never be exposed to high heat, such as an open flame. Serious injuries may result. Fallen candle wax can burn your face, neck and scalp. Hot droplets that enter your ear can damage your ear canal, perforate membranes and lead to bleeding, infections and hearing loss. 
Even if you are not burned in any way, ear candling can push wax deeper into your ear. In some cases, minute ash and powder deposits may also settle in your ear. Removing these may require professional medical help later.
While wax burns are the most common side effect of ear candling, people have also started things on fire during the process. Hair and clothes, especially, are quite flammable.
All these risks increase exponentially when children are involved. Unfortunately, these may not even be the greatest potential losses of ear candling. Time and money are also both wasted.
Many people further turn to ear candling when they should be consulting a doctor about an underlying condition. So instead of receiving a thorough hearing assessment and professional prognosis (and the care they need) they end up focusing on the burns they received, and the money they lost doing it.
If your ears feel blocked, or if you believe you have excessive earwax inside your ears you should always consult a hearing care professional. You may require advanced or specialized treatment which a candle cannot provide.
man with earache

How can I remove earwax safely?

The short answer is: simply let it fall out naturally on its own. 
If accumulated earwax is causing you earaches or impeding your hearing, you should always consult a hearing care professional. 
Removal of earwax is a very common procedure, and hearing care professionals have a range of specially-designed tools to scrape, suction and rinse out excess earwax safely.
For more, please see our article on safe ear cleaning techniques you can do at home.