February 21, 2010
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to use ear candles because there is no scientific evidence they have any health benefits and they can cause serious injuries, even when used according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Ear candling, is also known as ear coning or thermal auricular therapy. The process utilizes an ear candle, which is a hollow cone about 10 inches long made from a fabric tube soaked in wax such as beeswax, paraffin or a mixture of the two. The user lies on his or her side while the ear candle is placed in the outer ear and the wick lit.
Ear candles are available for purchase at a variety of places, including health food stores, flea markets, health spas, salons and on commercial web sites for do-it-yourself use. Salons and spas also offer ear candling as a service, sessions such as this at New York City spas run between 30 and 60 minutes and cost between $50 and $75.
Manufacturers advertise ear candles as a natural, ancient method of drawing earwax and “impurities” or “toxins” out of the ear canal. They also claim it to relieve sinus and ear infections, headache and earache, as well as improved hearing, “blood purification,” improvements in brain function and cure cancer.
The FDA is especially concerned because some manufacturers are advertising ear candles for use in children. Children and infants are more susceptible to ear candling injuries than adults are because their ear canals are smaller and they are more likely to move during the procedure.
The FDA has received reports of burns, perforated eardrums and blockage of the ear canal, which required outpatient surgery from the use of ear candles. Persons who seek relief from health issues by ear candling delay in seeking the medical care needed for an underlying condition. They risk fire, burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum and middle ear, injury to the ear from dripping wax, plugging of the ears by candle wax, bleeding and perforation of the eardrum.
The FDA has found no valid scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices for any medical claims or benefits. Health Canada, the Canadian health regulatory agency, performed their own tests and found that ear candles produce no measurable effect in the ear and have no therapeutic value.
A study published in 1996 in the medical journal Laryngoscope found that burning ear candles produced no measurable vacuum pressure or suction. Ear candles were also found to be ineffective in removing earwax in four test subjects. In fact, using ear candle on these subjects appeared to have pushed earwax further into the ear canal. The study surveyed ear, nose and throat physicians who reported 13 cases of burns of the ear, seven cases of wax occlusion of the ear canal, and one case of a perforated eardrum. The authors of this study also reported that the burning ear candles dripped candle wax on the eardrum of the test subjects and in a model of the ear.
People who advocate ear candling sometimes break open the used ear candle to show a material inside said to be the extracted toxins, but this material is just residue from the candle itself.