Are Ear Candles Effective or Dangerous?

Carli Van Harken
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We are all familiar with earwax. This sticky substance is naturally made in the ear and consists of a mixture of dead skin cells, hair, dirt, and other debris. A little bit of earwax is actually good for the ears because it helps trap bacteria, preventing it from entering the inner ear. Additionally, earwax helps keep the ears lubricated which can prevent dryness and irritation. If earwax accumulates, it needs to be removed to prevent infection. There are various strategies that people use to remove earwax and some are not safe including using ear candles. 

What is Ear Candling? 

Ear candling is a method used to extract earwax and is also used to alleviate tinnitus (a buzzing or ringing like noise in the ears), sinus infections, ear infections etc. But there is no scientific evidence that shows that ear candling is an effective way to provide relief for these issues. Additionally, doctors and experts do not recommend using this technique to clean the ears. So what is ear candling exactly?

Ear candles are made of wrapped linen or cotton that is dipped in beeswax. These hollow sticks are at least 10 inches and are also referred to as auricular candles. The wick is lit and the opposite side is inserted into the ear (the person is typically laying on their side). As it burns, the candle is held in the ear for several minutes, until only a stub of the candle remains. It is believed that the heat melts and pulls the earwax out of the ear and the hollow candle acts as a suction. 

Is Ear Candling Effective?

The short answer is no. Practitioners of this method often cite the wax substance that remains on the candle as evidence that it has worked. But studies, including this in-depth case of ear candling, have shown that this is likely wax from the candle itself that has fallen into the ear. Additionally, there are several risks associated with ear candling that make it a dangerous method including: 

  • Facial burns, burns within the ear (outer ear, ear canal)
  • Candle wax can easily drip into the ear causing blockage in the ear canal
    • this can cause infection, short-term hearing loss, inflammation, irritation, pain etc. 

Ear candling, often used as an alternative therapy, is not a safe or useful practice. There are much safer (and effective) ways to remove earwax and clean your ears!

Ways to Effectively Remove Earwax

Earwax has its own natural way of exiting the ear but sometimes, we can experience a buildup that requires us to remove the excess earwax. The best ways to remove earwax are:  

  • Ear Irrigation: this can consist of different methods but the general idea is to use a solution and drain your ears. A common way is to tilt your head, outer ear facing upwards, and placing drops of room temperature water or a saline solution in the ear.  After a short period of time, tilt your head the other way to drain the ear of the fluid and wax. 
  • Softening earwax: softening earwax is another useful way to make removal easier. There are several products you can use to break up earwax, including over the counter ear drops, oils, glycerin etc. 

If these methods do not work and earwax continues to accumulate, consider visiting a doctor who can use specific instruments designed for the ears to remove earwax.  

Additional Tips for Ear Care

In addition to safely removing earwax when necessary, some useful tips to follow are: 

  • Do not use cotton swabs! Though this is an incredibly common way people try to remove earwax, it is actually not effective and doctors recommend against it. Using cotton swabs can further push earwax into the inner ear which can cause damage. You can use cotton swabs to clean the outer portion of your ear (the cartilage). 
  • Thoroughly dry out your ears after swimming to prevent infection (swimmer’s ear). 
  • If you wear hearing aids, earwax can accumulate regularly so be sure to clean your device and ears frequently.
  • Do not insert random items in the ear to remove ear wax – bobby pins, cotton swabs, sticks etc.