What Is Ear Candling and Does It Work?

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Woman receiving dubious ear candling

What is Ear Candling?

Ear candles are aromatherapy products that improve general health and well-being and remove earwax. The number of health-related claims that manufacturers make for ear candling is pretty extensive:

  • cure for ear and sinus infections
  • earwax removal
  • treatment for cold, flu and sore throat
  • vertigo or dizziness relief
  • stress and tension treatment

Pretty impressive, huh? So what’s the process of this magical wonder treatment? The “aromatherapy” process involves lighting one end of a hollow candle and placing the other end in your ear canal. Yes, it is that simple.

When the waxed paper or gauze tube burns, it is supposed to create a vacuum-like effect outside your ear canal. Amazing! The vacuum or difference in air pressure draws out your earwax and treats other infections and ailments.

Does Ear Candling Work?

Ear candles sound pretty convincing because they claim a vacuous fire is involved. Perhaps there is just something about the nature of fire that captures our imagination and makes us want to believe ear candling works.

After all, the power of the placebo effect can be compelling. No doubt your mind is a powerful healing tool when given a chance.

However, we’re not convinced if positive thinking and a smouldering tube of waxy paper can cure a sinus infection or extract impacted earwax. And neither are medical researchers as they claim, “No evidence suggests that ear candling is an effective treatment for any condition.” Moreover, for ear candling, the “claimed mechanism of action has not been verified, no positive clinical effect has been reliably recorded, and it is associated with considerable risk.”

The picture below shows ear candle therapy in action. Please note the flammable-looking bathrobes you should remain well clear of when lighting a fire!

Is Ear Candling Safe?

You can easily purchase ear candles at places that might lend credibility to their effectiveness and general safety. However, don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. After all, as long as the product is not deemed “defective”, the responsibility of safe use is generally with the person using it. For example, an adult can buy a  box of safety matches, but they certainly aren’t safe if misused and can pose a real danger to people and property.

Perhaps the critical question concerning ear candle safety is, are they an unnecessary safety risk to people and property? By unnecessary, let’s think about safer alternatives that don’t involve lighting something on fire and sticking it in your ear.

One alternative is to visit your General Practitioner, who may offer ear syringing. However, this is becoming less common as many GPs refer patients to clinics that practice earwax removal by microsuction.

Perhaps it’s safer to say most people’s ears are entirely self-regulating. Think of the ear canal as a conveyor belt that efficiently expels excess skin, wax and debris. Therefore most people don’t need to use ear candles, earbuds, or any other object to “clean” their ears. Your ears clean themselves, in most cases.

In cases where wax becomes “stuck” or impacted, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with Ear Health or go and see your GP. Your ear canal is very sensitive, and a lot can go wrong if you light fires near it or start picking inside it with hairpins or toothpicks.

Why Can I Still Buy Ear Candles If They Don’t Remove earwax?

Ear candles were listed and regulated by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Although Australia and New Zealand abandoned a single medical regulatory agency plan in 2014, Medsafe works closely with the TGA under a Mutual Recognition Agreement.

Under such agreements, products like “aromatherapy ear candles” can be approved for sale in New Zealand by Medsafe if listed in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).

UPDATE: As of 2 December 2020, the TGA stopped regulating several low-risk products, including ear candles. The TGA ceded regulatory responsibility to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

It’s unclear if Medsafe also no longer regulate ear candles in NZ, but we suspect they are now the regulatory responsibility of the Commerce Commission of New Zealand.

Ear Health is investigating, and we will provide more information as it becomes available.

Do you think the regulatory and listing application process for ear candles has been completed to a sufficient standard? We’re interested in reading your thoughts in the comments below.

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