While ear candling has deep historical roots, evidence suggests that it is not a safe or effective practice for removing excessive ear wax. The practice involves placing a cone-shaped candle inside your ear, tilting your head to one side, and lighting the other end of the candle. Ideally you have a plate attached to the candle above the ear to protect your head from hot wax as the candle burns.
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One way to try this controversial remedy is to visit a practitioner specializing in ear coning or candling. The Coning/Candling Company, located in Pacific Palisades, Calif. offers this service at a rate of $120 for a one hour and 20 minute session as of 2010. The company use a series of six cones, three per ear, and trains you to do it yourself at home. The practitioners claim that the cones remove not only wax, but environmental toxins such as chemicals from plastics and prescription drugs. They base this claim on the incorrect assumption that the eustacian tubes of the ears are part of the body's lymphatic system.
You can also purchase ear candles at your local health or nutrition store or online. For as low as $2 for unbleached cotton ear candles to as high as $14 for a pair of rose-oil beeswax ear candles as of 2010, you can follow the instructions on the package for this home remedy. However, the Food and Drug Administration issued prohibits companies from marketing the medical benefits of ear candles, as they are not supported by research.
Another possibility is making your own ear candles by rolling newspaper into a cone and soaking it with wax. Historically, people made them by shaping a cone from pottery and then blowing smoke into the cone. Some ear candlers use herbs or oils for various medicinal or spiritual reasons.
While the benefits are unsubstantiated and sometimes sound bizarre, the risks are clear. The Center for Devices and Radiological Health classifies ear cones or candles as dangerous devices, posing a risk with the close proximity of the burning flame to the person's face. Doctors have reported a good number of cases involving burns to the skin, blocked ear canals and a perforated eardrum. There is also the risk of fire itself, causing one known death to the ear candle user.
What the Evidence Says
In a nutshell, when you open the cone, what you see appears to be wax and debris that the vacuum of the ear candle sucked from your ear. However, researchers have found that this is simply the melted wax of the candle itself, discolored by its smoke. As far as effectiveness in removing ear wax, even The Coning/Candling Company admits that your ear wax will replenish itself usually within 24 hours.