You may have seen, at some point or another, someone laying on a massage table with a white towel draped over his or her head. A candle, lit, was protruding from the ear. This is called “ear candling.”
The technique dates back to ancient Egypt. According to its practitioners, the candle removes wax from the ear and thus enhances one’s physical and spiritual well-being. They use a foot-long tube, a rolled-up sheet of cotton, that is covered in beeswax. One end of the tube goes into your ear and the other end is set afire so it looks like you have a huge candle sticking out from your ear.
The idea is that fire sucks out the wax like a vacuum. The practitioner allows it to do this for maybe 20 minutes per ear, after which they remove the tube and push a stick through it, forcing out what is inside: ash and wax. But is it your earwax or is it beeswax? Because it is darkened, some believe it is their earwax, but the smoke could alter the look of the beeswax.
The next question is: does it work? It is possible that it is ineffective. Moreover, ear candling may carry more risk than it does reward. In the past, researchers have found that it’s not earwax left over in the tube, and that it’s unlikely the flame could ever create a vacuum to have such an effect. Some doctors have commented that the pressure needed to dislodge sticky ear wax would be so strong that it would rupture the eardrum. You can’t vacuum out earwax.
One risk is that burning wax could drip into the ear canal. Since the tube leads directly into your ear, this is hardly out of the question. It has been estimated that 10% of throat doctors had patients come to them because they had been harmed by ear candling. About half the cases were an obstructed ear canal, blocked with candle wax. One eardrum had been perforated.
Rather than remove earwax, candling may actually cause more wax to build up in the inner ear. The FDA prohibits all practitioners from advertising that candling can treat earaches, sinus headaches, allergies, and several other problems. The leading specialists on the ear, nose, and throat — the American Academy of Otolaryngology — goes as far as denouncing ear candling.
One factor of note is that wax in our ears has a purpose. It stops water, dust and bacteria from entering. I would think twice before having a session of ear candling.