While it might not be the best topic for a dinner table, earwax tends to get a bad reputation for something that is actually very important to the health of our ears.
A mixture of oily secretions from the glands in our ears, dead skin cells and dust, earwax protects the ear against dirt and bacteria and keeps out infections. So, while not pretty, it does a great job at cleaning the ear and falling out itself – usually when you’re asleep.
Despite all this, we know that a good majority of people regularly stick things in their ears to ‘give them a good clean’ even though they don’t need to. In fact, sticking a cotton bud in there for a good rummage can strip the ear of natural oils and make them itchier. And don’t get us started on pen lids, hair grips or any of the other weird and wonderful things that get inserted into the delicate ear canals.
And that’s where we come to ear candles. Some people feel ear candles are a better option to remove earwax because it doesn’t involve sticking anything deep into your ear. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to suggest they do a good job and they have been known to cause even more problems than they aim to help.
If you are having problems with earwax, please contact us. Sometimes, earwax can harden and cause hearing problems or affect the way hearing aids function.
What is ear candling?
There are three main types of ear candles, all of which have a hollow ‘chimney’ that supposedly holds the earwax:
- Hopi ear candles which are the traditional long cylindrical ones with a filter
- Ear cones which are shorter and wider and include a valve to stop debris from entering the ear
- Natural/basic ear candles which come in a variety of shapes and don’t contain any safety features
The traditional way to use ear candles is to lie on your side and insert the candle into the ear. Flameproof material, or sometimes just a plate with a hole cut through it, is placed over the face to protect against falling wax or hot ash. Some candles can be inserted into the ear at an angle while the person sits upright with towels placed along the face and shoulder to prevent burns. In any case, it should be done with a professional who can trim the candle as it burns down and not by the person using the ear candle.
In theory, ear candles create suction as they burn which pulls the warmed earwax into the hollow candle and away from the ear, although there isn’t any scientific evidence to support this.
Do ear candles actually work?
First off, let’s make it clear that there really is a lot to be said for some homoeopathic remedies. In fact, we’re the first to recommend using olive oil to soften hardened earwax if ear drops are too harsh for your skin. But, we just can’t put our weight behind ear candles, and many ear experts agree.
There are lots of images on the internet showing the insides of ear candles with ‘wax’ inside. Unfortunately, the research just doesn’t agree with the claims made by the makers of ear candles that they can remove wax, help with tinnitus, sinus problems and other ear, nose and throat ailments.1 In fact, research showed it was more likely that candle wax was deposited into the ear rather than earwax being removed.2
Despite efforts to replicate the suction that ear candles claim, a study showed no measurable difference in patients or evidence of such suction and no subsequent removal of earwax.1
Are ear candles bad for you?
Put simply, yes, ear candles can cause real damage to your ears and face. While there are no restrictions in place in the UK and Ireland, the FDA (America’s Food and Drug Association) has serious concerns about ear candles. The FDA, and their Canadian counterparts at the regulatory agency Health Canada, have worked hard to stop the production of ear candles because manufacturers haven’t submitted evidence that they are ‘safe and effective’.
Common complaints include burns to the face and ear, candle wax blocking the ear and even hot wax attaching to the eardrum causing permanent damage.1
How to clean your ears safely
We’d always say that nothing smaller than your elbow should go into your ears – unless in the hands of an ear expert, but if you do want to try removing earwax at home, we have this advice for cleaning your ears safely.
1. Davis, B., Rafferty, J. and Tsikoudas, A., 2007. Ear candling: Should general practitioners recommend it?. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231549/> [Accessed 9 August 2021].
2. Seely, D., Quigley, S. and Langman, A., 1996. Ear Candles-Efficacy and Safety. The Laryngoscope, 106(10), pp.1226-1229.