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Does ear candling work?

We take a look at this controversial procedure.

What's going on in there? Ear candling purports to help. Credit: Stockbyte What's going on in there? Ear candling purports to help.
Credit: Stockbyte

Ear candling is a contentious, but popular alternative therapy, reputed to safely clear wax and debris from the ear canal and help conditions such as ear aches, infections, headaches and sinus pressure. It is thought to have originated in biblical times. But the treatment has detractors, especially in the medical profession, with some viewing it as a bogus, unproven alternative therapy.

“The process involves creating a negative pressure, which presumably sucks out the wax,” says Dr. David Schessel, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Long Island’s Stony Brook Medical Center. “There have been some evaluations of its efficacy: One showed no vacuum was created, another found that the debris collected wasn’t from the ear, but from combustion and the candle. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Still, many spas and natural healing centers offer the service, and kits are available for in-home use. Maria Deslandes, owner of Boston’s Southwest Day Spa, introduced ear candling eight years ago after she tried it herself.

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“I used to have problems with background noise,” says Deslandes. “If someone was talking and there was a noise in the background, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I had three ear candling sessions and afterwards I could hear everything clearly,” she recalls. “I flew to Brazil a while ago and came back feeling very congested. After two sessions, it was gone. I have one client who suffered from terrible ringing in his ears and after three sessions it was significantly improved. It’s a wonderful treatment.”

Deslandes says ear candling, which takes about 15 minutes per ear and is performed with the patient lying down on a massage table, is soothing, too: “The lights are low; we have candles burning in the room. We stay and make sure it goes well. Most people say they find it very relaxing.”

Dr. Schessel not only questions its efficacy, though, but its safety too.

“Pushing something into the ear canal has the potential to do damage,” he says. “Most people think of earwax as dirt, something to be gotten out. Wax is natural and it has a purpose. It waterproofs the ear and kills bacteria. The ear is a self-cleaning structure. Severe impactions can occur."

How it works

A candle is inserted gently into the ear canal and lit. Then the person lies without moving for 10-15 minutes. It is extinguished and the technician removes it.

 
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