Earwax: while it’s not the most pleasant topic to discuss, your earwax is an essential part of how your body functions on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it’s quite a mysterious substance — scientists still aren’t completely sure why we produce it, but as it stands, the leading theory is that earwax (along with the tiny hairs lining your ear canal) helps to trap any dirt, dust, or debris from passing into your inner ear, where it may cause damage or infection.
However, while earwax may help to protect your ears, it can also cause issues from time to time. Usually, your earwax will fall out naturally all on its own, but if this doesn’t happen the wax will begin to build up. This can cause all sorts of issues, from hearing loss and earache to loss of balance and nausea (vertigo).
If you’ve ever struggled with earwax buildup, there’s a chance you may have stumbled across a treatment known as ear candling. It’s a practice widely believed to have originated in ancient Egypt before it found a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s. Proponents of the treatment claim that it can help to remove any excess wax, dirt, and debris from the inner ear. Does it work? The medical consensus on the matter is a firm no. However, if you’re curious about ear candling, then read on — we’ll explain everything you need to know.
What is ear candling?
Ear candling is a form of ancient, alternative medicine. There are many different types and varieties of ear candles (or cones, as they’re sometimes known), but the overall practice of how they’re used is relatively consistent:
- The subject lies on their side and a hollow candle (usually made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax) is placed in their ear. Around two-thirds of the way down the candle, a circular guard is usually placed to catch dripping wax. These are often flimsy and made of aluminium foil.
- The candle is lit and allowed to burn for around 10-15 minutes.
- The candle is removed from the ear and extinguished.
- The candle fabric is unrolled or split open, revealing the ‘impurities’ that the treatment has successfully removed from the ear.
In addition to removing earwax, practitioners believe the candle is a powerful, holistic remedy. They will often promote ear candling as a legitimate treatment for migraines, sore throats, and even viral infections.
Does ear candling work?
In short, no — there is no medical evidence to suggest that ear candling removes any wax or debris from the outer or inner ear.
Practitioners claim that ear candling works by creating negative pressure within the ear. This change in pressure is then supposed to ‘suck’ the wax out of the ear. However:
- While ear candling does create a change in air pressure, it is untrue that enough force will be generated to dislodge or suck up wax or debris.
- After the session is through, practitioners will often cut open the candle to display the wax that’s been removed. The substance does look like earwax, but it’s actually a mixture of burnt paraffin and fabric. Independent tests have verified this, as even when an ear candle is left to burn away from the ear, the same residue is produced.
Experts in the field are all in agreement — ear candling doesn’t work, and The American Academy of Otolaryngology evidences this in their clinical guidelines. In 2017, they stated: “Ear candling or ear coning is NOT a safe option for earwax removal. Research shows that ear candling does NOT create a vacuum to suck earwax from the ear.”
Is ear candling safe?
There’s no evidence to suggest that ear candling works, but there’s plenty that points to the practice being unsafe.
Ear specialists and audiologists alike strongly advise against ear candling for several reasons:
- When ear candles are burned, the wax lining inside the candle melts. The wax is then free to drip directly into the ear, potentially leading to further blockage or even infection.
- Smoke and soot from ear candles can enter your ears. Far from clearing any blockage, this will only add to it.
- Placing burning objects so close to your face is never a sensible idea. In the event that embers drift onto your skin or into your hair, you could suffer severe burns.
So, think again if you’re struggling with a waxy blockage in your ear and are considering ear candling. Ear candling is deemed unsafe by medical experts, is unproven by science, and is unadvised for the treatment of any condition.
How should I treat my earwax buildup?
Earwax should fall out naturally, but this isn’t always the case. Dealing with a build-up of earwax can be unpleasant and cause a number of symptoms ranging from hearing loss to headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
When trying to remove a build-up of earwax, your first thought may be to try and dislodge it using your fingers, or cotton buds — don’t do this! You’re likely to make the issue worse by compacting the wax and pushing it further into your ear.
By using ear drops, you can reduce excessive ear wax by softening the build-up so that it can fall out naturally. There is a wide range of earwax softening drops to choose from — these include Otex Ear Drops, Waxsol Ear Drops, and Cerumol Olive Oil Ear Drops.
However, if over-the-counter treatments prove to be ineffective after three to five days of use, it’s best to visit your GP. They’ll perform a thorough investigation into the cause of the blockage and, if necessary, they may decide to ‘irrigate’ by flushing your ear canal with water. If this procedure fails to dislodge the wax buildup, your doctor may refer you to the ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) department of your nearest hospital for more specialised treatments.
In conclusion, then, ear candling does not work at dislodging or removing earwax, and it can even be potentially dangerous. If you’re suffering from an excess build-up of earwax, don’t be tempted to try one of these ‘alternative’ therapies — or indeed, try to remove it yourself using a finger or cotton bud — but instead use over-the-counter ear drops or consult your GP or pharmacist for expert advice.