Hearing Health Blog

Close up of ear candles that don't work to clean ear wax.

In some groups, the practice called “ear candling” is persistently thought to be a good way to minimize earwax. What is ear candling, and does it work?

Earwax Candles, is it Effective?

Spoiler alert: No. They absolutely don’t work.

Why then, does this bit of pseudo-science keep finding its way into the minds of otherwise reasonable people? It’s hard to say with much accuracy. But the more you know about earwax candling, especially the risks involved, the more likely you can develop an informed choice (even if the rational choice is pretty obvious).

Earwax Candling, What is it?

So the basic setup goes like this: Perhaps you have too much earwax and you aren’t quite certain how to eliminate it. You know you aren’t supposed to use cotton swabs (which is good, cotton swabs are not a great way to clear out your ears, in general). So, after doing some study, you find a technique called earwax candling.

Earwax candling supposedly works as follows: You generate a pressure differential by inserting the candle into your ear, wick side out. The wax in your ear, then, is pulled outward, towards the freedom of the open world. Any wax that might be backed up in your ear can, theoretically, be pulled out by this amount of pressure. But this hazardous practice is not a good way to clean your ears.

Why Isn’t Ear Candling Effective

This practice has a few issues, like the fact that the physics just don’t work. There’s simply no way for a candle to generate that type of pressure differential (and in order to move earwax around, that pressure difference would have to be pretty substantial indeed). Second, generating that type of pressure difference would require some kind of seal, which doesn’t happen during candling.

Now, the candles that they use in these “procedures” are supposed to be special. When you’re finished with your fifteen minutes of ear candling, you can break up the candle and, in the middle, see all bacteria, debris, and wax that was in your ear. The only problem is that the same debris shows up in both used and unused candles. So the whole procedure amounts to fraud.

Scientific research has been unable to prove any benefit involving earwax candling.

So Earwax Candling Doesn’t Work, But How Safe is it?

What’s the danger in giving it a shot, right? Well, any time you get hot candle wax near your ears, you’re asking for trouble. You may be ok if you decide to try earwax candling. People do it regularly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks involved, and it definitely doesn’t mean that ear candling is safe.

The negative impacts of ear candling can include:

  • You might cause serious damage when you play around with an open flame and possibly even put your life in danger. Seriously, you could burn your house down. Clearing away a bit of earwax isn’t worth that kind of danger and risk.
  • Candle wax can also block up your ear canal after it cools. This can cause temporary hearing loss or, in the most severe cases, require surgery.
  • Your ear can be seriously burned. When melted candle wax goes into your ear, it can result in extreme hearing problems and burns. This could permanently compromise your hearing in the most severe cases.

You Don’t Need a Candle to Keep Your Ears Clean

In most situations you won’t even have to be concerned about cleaning earwax out. That’s because your ears are actually pretty good about cleaning themselves! However, there are some people who will have uncommonly heavy earwax production or accumulation to contend with.

If it happens that you have excessive earwax there are techniques that have been proven to work safely. For example, you could use a fluid wash. Another solution would be to consult a hearing care specialist for an earwax cleaning.

You should continue to stay away from cotton swabs. And you should also avoid using an open flame to clean out earwax. Earwax candling is a technique that has no advantage and will put your ears, and your entire person, at significant risk of damage and injury. Try burning candles for their sent or for enjoyment but never as a method to clean your ears.

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