Ear Candles for removing Ear Wax: They Don’t Work

All this COVID-19 coverage gives me the jitters.  For the sake of sanity, can we talk about something else?  Say, ear candles to remove ear wax?  Yea!  But hold onto your horses.  For those folks who swear by these devices and the process called “ear candling” or “ear coning,” here’s the BUMMER ALERT: they don’t work.

I see a lot of patients who claim ear candles remove the wax from their ears (and ironically, they’re seeing me for ear problems).  The process involves placing a hollow candle onto or into the entrance of the ear canal and lighting the other end.  The theory is the heat melts the ear wax (known as cerumen, not to be confused with the wax from the candle, which is paraffin) and the hollow candle creates a vortex or vacuum that sucks the cerumen out.  As proof to its efficacy, users claim the brown substance that collects inside the hollow of the candle is the actual cerumen removed from the ear.

This conceptually sounds fine-and-dandy and semi-rational if it weren’t for those annoying contradictory nuisances called scientific studies.  These studies have found: 1.  NO vacuum is created by the candles, 2.  NO cerumen is removed when the ear is examined before and after the candling, and 3.  that brown stuff inside the candle has none of the properties of cerumen, but instead has shown to be the burnt paraffin from the candle itself.

Also there are numerous reports of injury related to this procedure.  In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against their use, stating:

 “The product labeling is false and misleading in that there is no validated scientific evidence to support the efficacy of the product for its intended use” and considers “the product to be dangerous when used according to its labeling, since the use of a lit candle in the proximity of a person's face would carry a high risk of causing potentially severe skin/hair burns and middle ear damage.”

We in the medical profession phrase such things as “the risks far outweigh any potential benefit.”  In the case of ear candles, there is no proven benefit but proven risks and complications.

If you must clean our ear, there are safer ways (see Ear Cleaning, Do’s and Don’ts).  See your doctor who also can clean this out and for really stubborn cases, a visit to the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) doctor may be required.

So do us all a favor—your doctor, the emergency room doctors and staff, and the poor ENT doc on-call-- avoid ear candles!

Randall S. Fong, M.D.

For more topics on medicine, health and the weirdness of life in general, check out the rest of the blog site at  randallfong.blogspot.com