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Also known as auricular candling, 'coning' or Thermo-Auricular Therapy (TAT).
Ear Candling is a home remedy often marketed as a way to remove excess earwax and to treat a variety of other medical conditions, but independent studies have consistently shown that they do not stand up to these claims. When an ear candle is used, often the candle or cone is cut open after application and inside a collection of debris is visible that resembles earwax. This debris however has been shown to be only residue from the candle itself. Since as early as 1993 The FDA has actively seized the products of some ear candle manufacturers, and has sent warnings and orders to stop selling the ear candles to many others. Some ear candle manufacturers skirt these legal issues by labelling their ear candles "for entertainment purposes only." It is illegal to sell ear candles in Canada even if labelled for entertainment purposes because Health Canada has determined there is no other reasonable purpose for ear candles except for the home health applications they have typically been associated with. In the United States, the FDA currently has a page dedicated to warning the public of the dangers of ear candling. Ear candles pose a fire risk, a risk to personal health and safety, and no scientific evidence has been shown to suggest they provide any health benefit whatsoever."
Video demonstration using a life size model ear with a window so you can see what is going on in the ear. (13th October 2011)
“The fact that Health Canada has classified ear candles as Class III medical devices and actively works to stop their illegal sale indicates that they take them fairly seriously. This is welcome news to skeptics who are concerned about dangerous and ineffective devices and treatments, and who are so often dissapointed by their lack of regulation. It also means that by reporting the illegal sale or import of ear candles, skeptics can make a real difference in protecting the public from dangerous pseudoscience.” Canadian activist website.
“Numerous websites sell inexpensive ear candling kits, and some beauty salons and spas offer it as a “relaxation” service. Also called coning, earcandling involves inserting the narrow end of a hollow cone, impregnated with paraffin or beeswax, into the ear canal and lighting the other end. This supposedly creates a vacuum that draws wax out of the ear. Proponents claim it also treats tinnitus, migraines, postnasal drip, allergies, coughs, and many other ills. There’s no evidence to support any medical benefits of ear candling, however. According to some research, ear candling does not create enough suction to extract earwax—and it can leave candle wax behind. Worse, ear candling can burn the ear canal, perforate the eardrum, and cause infection. And it’s a fire hazard. Serious injuries have been reported to the FDA and Health Canada, and the FDA has taken legal action against marketers and seized ear candling products. A review in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology a few years ago concluded that ear candling “clearly does more harm than good” and should be banned.” Berkeley University of California health alert (16th July 2010)
Doctors want a ban on ear candling, a procedure that is said to relieve sinus problems and headaches but can lead to burns or temporary hearing loss…“You can burn your skin, you can burn your hair, the candle can perforate the eardrum,” said Dr Ahmad Alamadi, the head of the ear, nose and throat department at Al Baraha Hospital in Dubai. One patient needed surgery days after having the treatment last year. Her hearing was reduced to 50 per cent, Dr Alamadi said. “I saw her ears completely blocked, but from the candle wax,” he said. “The candle itself melted and went down the canal. It solidified and packed the whole ear. She was lucky it didn’t burn the eardrums.” After administering general anaesthesia on the patient, Dr Alamadi took about two hours to scoop out “about three to four cubic centimetres of wax. “Trying to avoid damaging the skin of the canal was tricky work. It wasn’t fun,” he said.” Matt Kwong, United Arab Emirates press (2nd June 2010)
“A review of the literature identified one systematic review of the available evidence on ear candling. Seely et al (1996) found that ear candling does not produce any negative pressure (the purported mechanism of action) and does not remove cerumen (ear wax) from the ear canal. They found no existing evidence to evaluate regarding claims that ear candling treats other medical conditions such as sinus infections. Safety concerns associated with ear candling include danger of burns, of depositing melted wax into the ear canal, and perforated eardrum. During the past few years, the FDA has banned the importation of auricular candles marketed by at least four Canadian companies.” Clinical practice guideline from American Speciality Health Inc. [ASH] (last revised 27th May 2010) [pdf]
“Warning from the FDA: Consumers should “steer clear of ear candles — hollow cones that are about 10 inches long and made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or a mixture of the two.” The FDA adds that injuries stemming from sticking a burning candle in your ear are “likely underreported.”… The regulators said today they have seized some ear candles and sent warning letters to three big manufacturers saying that such products weren’t approved in the US. Canada is also stepping up enforcement…The FDA said it was particularly concerned that children could be harmed using ear candles.” Wall Street Journal blog (18th February 2010)
“Ear candling is dangerous (even when used as directed by the manufacturer) and serves no legitimate purpose and there is no scientific evidence showing effectiveness for use. It is of significant concern that some ear candles are advertised for use with children (including babies), potentially placing them at great risk — with no known or documented benefit. As hearing professionals and doctors, we strongly recommend prior to undertaking ear candling, consumers and patients are urged to discuss the matter with their physician, audiologist, or hearing aid dispenser. Bottom line: Ear candling is ineffective and potentially dangerous and we do not recommend it at any time for any reason.” Opinion editorial by Jackie Clark, PhD, Douglas L. Beck AuD, and Walter Kutz, MD, American Academy of Audiology (2010)
“We have all fallen for something at one point in time. Nothing to be ashamed of – it is human nature to believe in something that ultimately fails you. When it come to your health and hearing health there are many phony claims out there and some that can be dangerous. One being ear candles…. It doesn’t work. A flim-flam – and a very dangerous one at that. And unlike the individuals who believe in the benefits of ear candling, and strongly profess the benefits of this bizarre process, the dangers of ear candling have actual scientific data to back up the claims of hearing health professionals who have seen the results of this supposed “miracle cure.” People are seeking alternative solutions for issues that can’t be handled by modern medicine and they want solutions to their problems – preferably simple solutions. Ear candling is not a solution. It’s a dangerous false solution. If you do have an excessive build up of ear wax, learn more about safe ear wax removal and discuss the issue with your physician or audiologist. In other words, ear candling is dangerous and it doesn’t work. Seeing your physician or a qualified hearing professional (Otolaryngologist or audiologist), when you have an excessive amount of ear wax does work. Remember – never stick anything smaller than your elbow into your ear canal and that includes a large coned candle.” Carolyn Smaka Au.D. Associate Editor, Healthy Hearing (10th August 2009)
TV segment featuring New Zealand MD, Shaun Holt, discussing the dangers of ear candling. (21st June 2009) [3:36mins]
“…earwax is there for a reason and doesn’t ordinarily need to be removed. So, in general, your best bet is simply to clean your outer ear with a washcloth and leave earwax removal to your ear’s own self-cleaning mechanism. No cotton-tipped swabs—and no candles—necessary.” Robert Shmerling, M.D., Harvard Health Publications (2009)
Health Canada's position on ear candling: "Health Canada's Medical Devices Regulations state that certain types of medical devices, including ear candles, require a licence from Health Canada before anyone can sell them for therapeutic purposes. Health Canada has not issued any licences for ear candles. Therefore, the sale of this product for therapeutic purposes in Canada is illegal. As well, both Canada and the United States have issued directives that ban the importing of ear candles..... Report any complaints or concerns about ear candles, or any other medical devices, to Health Canada through a toll-free hotline at 1-800-267-9675." Health Canada website (November 2005)
Concludes that candling is both ineffective and dangerous. Article by Lisa M. L. Dyer (Quackwatch)
A cautionary tale. Part 3 of a 5-part article. All 5 parts of the article are available via this link. (Advance for audiologists)