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Ear Candling Ė Evil Spirits or Ear Wax?

Loretta Marron BSc
From a Skeptics Perspective

Issue 76: October 2008
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When I walked into the room I could see them reclining in their chairs, faces turned towards the wall, each with a long slender candle wedged firmly in their upturned ear.
I lit the hollow candles in turn and for 15 minutes watched the thin ribbons of smoke waft towards the ceiling as the burning candles slowly disappeared.
At $45 per box, the pharmacy assistant had assured my friends that “they worked”, so I was there to see what happened.
“My ear has popped” said one woman.
Pulling out the remnants of her candle I could see a dark wax residue.
“I told you that they cleaned out your ear wax, you can see it for yourself” she said to me.
This convincing experiment warranted further study – I’ve always assumed that this was some kind of witchcraft - maybe I was wrong?
For this article I’m going to talk about Ear Candling.


I first heard about Ear Candling some years ago when another friend of mine had gone to a naturopath because she was feeling unsteady on her feet.
The naturopath recommended the candles to cure her of vertigo.
However, the repeated sessions of Ear Candling, followed by the consumption of the obligatory concoction of secret herbal remedies, had no effect except to lighten her purse of a considerable amount of money.
A few months later, after being found unconscious on her kitchen floor, she was raced off to a neurologist and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

As a Cancer patient I frequently roam around the ‘natural medicines’ section at my local pharmacy while I wait for my prescription medication.
While shopping at my new neighbourhood discount pharmacy, I noticed that on the script counter was a box of two candles, complete with an AUST L number, for a bargain price of $9.95.
Pharmacy assistants are supposedly highly trained staff members, the right arm of their busy pharmacist, so I asked about them.
“Some people swear by them,” replied one pharmacy assistant and she went on to reassure me that “they work”.
She told me that candling relieves ear pain, sinus pressure and excess moisture, and she said that smoke from the candle gets rid of earwax, too.
The labelling stated that the product used 100% unbleached cotton impregnated with candle wax and that "the warmth may increase circulation and assist the body's natural process to excrete impacted earwax or other debris."
Thoughts of self-experimentation crossed my mind so I paid the money and left.

The history of Ear Candling remains a mystery, 1 
however they were allegedly used in China, Egypt, Tibet; even the American Hopi Indians seem to have their own version of this product, so no-one is really sure who first came up with the idea and what they cure.
I had always thought the aim of Ear Candling was to clear mythical ‘energy blockages’, or was used to stimulate energy points, to remove evil spirits, negative energy, mysterious unnamed toxins or some other pseudo-scientific nonsense.
According to the small print on the labelling of my purchase, Ear Candling is meant to remove both earwax and negative ‘energy’.

Some ear specialists recognised that if the candles worked, significant savings could be made in managing earwax, so they put them to the test.
In 1996 a study was undertaken by the US based Spokane Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic to evaluate the efficacy and safety of Ear Candling 2 

.
They found that they could not measure any ‘chimney effect’ significant enough to propel ear wax into the daylight and identified the wax residue left behind as being candle wax.
Their conclusion was that Ear Candling was “ineffective” as any kind of treatment for any condition.

As a child, I was not allowed to play with matches and I was told not to put anything in my ear smaller than my elbow, so it doesn’t surprise me that these candles have been linked to several house fires, burns, occlusions of the ear canal and perforated eardrums.
The Spokane study included a survey of 122 ear specialists, which also identified 21 ear injuries resulting from Ear Candle use.
Prof Edzard Ernst, who runs the Department of Complementary Medicine, Exeter, UK backs up the US findings adding, “their use should be discouraged” 3 

.

While Ear Candling may look harmless enough, any unproven alternative treatment may delay proper diagnosis of a serious condition and in this case, can also cause injuries. I would expect to find Ear Candling sessions held in the tent next to the Reiki practitioner and up the road from the Crystal Healers at a Psychic Fair, not in my local pharmacy.

I wonder what I will find in this pharmacy next time I’m browsing, Fortune Cookies perhaps?

1. Ernst E, Pittler MH. Wider B. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. An evidence based approach. 2nd Ed. Elsevier Mosby. 2006

2. Ear candles--efficacy and safety. Spokane Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=retrieve&db=pubmed&list_uids=8849790

3. PUBMED Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science. Ernst, E
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