Earwax (cerumen) is a healthy part of your body’s defense system: it keeps out dirt and bacteria from affecting your inner ear, acts as a water protectant, and is its own form of lubricant so that the canal doesn’t dry out. Sometimes we do have too much in our ears which can cause the earwax to be visible or cause decreased hearing ability. How we keep our ears clean, can be really important for your overall health.
People ask me all the time about ear candling, if they should do it, how it works, etc. and I did, at one point in my career, work in an ENT clinic and we used to manually clean out our patients ears. Our primarily elderly population never really asked about it ear candling, they just came in for their monthly cleanings, so it was kind of a non-issue. But now, there are all sorts of alternative therapy spas and holistic treatment centers that offer this as a treatment, and some of my clients and friends often ask about it and if it is a good thing for them to do. I must say, I cringe every time I see people shoving Q-Tips in their ear canals, just pushing wax further and further into their ear canal, and causing blockages of their ear canal.
What IS ear candling?
It is the practice of placing a lit, hollow, wax candle into the external ear canal. The theory behind ear candling is that the heat in the hollow candle causes a vacuum effect to draw out ear wax that may be causing blockages in your ear canal. It is claimed by holistic practitioners and by ear candle companies to improve overall health and be a gentle way to clean the ears, improve hearing, and also treat/prevent sinus infections. The whole process can last from between 15 minutes to 45 minutes depending on how many candles are burned in each ear. It was touted as being started by the Hopi tribespeople, but that has been disproven numerous times over.
Is it good for you?
After ear candling started gaining popularity, researchers wanted to find how effective this therapy is and exactly how it works and improves health. I know that so many people are going to be bummed right now, but time and time again it has been actually shown to be BAD for you! It has been found to be ineffective at pulling out ear wax can can actually push the wax further into the ear canal. Also, the wax from the candles can actually drop into your ears causing more wax…which seems to defeat the purpose! And, despite the fact that between the end of the candle and the client, a flame retardant is usually placed to prevent burns, but in research clients were found to obtain burns to their faces, necks, ear canals, ear drums, and middle ears. When you are trying to do something healthy, I think the last intention is that you burn your internal ear, right? In 2007 the FDA made a statement that ear candling is dangerous when used as labelled by companies. Both the Canadian and American Family Journals have spoken out about the dangers of ear candling.
Why do people do it?
People tend to feel really relaxed when they are doing it; it is quiet time to themselves without a computer, TV, people bothering you. It really is “me” time and some people almost get to a meditative state when candling. Also, there is an idea that the wax residue in the candles, once the treatment is finished, is their own ear wax, but one of the studies found that it is just residue from the candle, itself, burning. I think that people see all of that wax “removed” from their ears and are excited about doing something good for their body, so they continue to do it. If you feel relaxed and good, and people tell you you’re doing something good for you, why wouldn’t you continue to do it? Well, now you know better!
What should I do instead?
If you need your ears cleaned out regularly because you have tons of cerumen, then you should probably see your HCP and possibly go to a specialist. ENT specialists suggest that patients go in to see their HCP for cleaning/irrigation…but I know that every time you feel like you need your ears cleaned, you are not going to see your HCP. So, the best thing to do is buy an earwax removal kit, place the dropper at the edge of your ear canal (Not in it!) and place 2-3 drops in your ear, and repeat the process on the other side. Doing this two nights in a row should allow the wax to come out on its own while you sleep at night. If that doesn’t work, you can gently flush some warm water (make sure it is warm water- cool water is super uncomfortable and can make you dizzy) into your ear (with the flusher provided) and it will help to flush the excess wax out.
PLEASE don’t stick Q-tips, paperclips, or anything else in your ears to clean them out and see your HCP if you need help or are unsure how to safely clean them out yourself.
Yours in Good Health