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Is Ear Candling Safe For Removing Ear Wax?

Ear candling for removing ear wax

The popular trend of candling to remove a build up of ear wax may end up doing more harm than good. Ear candling, which is sometimes called ear coning, is a technique that uses a long hollow wax paper tube. One end is placed in the ear and the other end is lit. Proponents say the burning candle creates a vacuum that draws out ear wax and can help with things like ringing in the ears and sinus pressure.

Adam Pearl, MD, Chief of Otolaryngology at Bridgeport Hospital says despite its popularity, ear candling poses several safety hazards. It can burn the skin, the patient’s hair can catch on fire and wax can drop into the ear canal or ear drum. Even if it was completely safe, he doubts the supposed benefits.

“I’ve cleaned out many ears from people that say ‘Oh, I just had my ear candled,’ and we look in the ear and the ear canal is still blocked with excessive wax that needs to be removed,” Dr. Pearl said.

How to remove ear wax

Most people don’t need to have their ear wax removed as it keeps the ear canal moist and can trap debris from going farther into the ear. However, if a build-up of ear wax becomes annoying, Dr. Pearl said the best way to get rid of wax at home is to dissolve it with an over-the-counter wax softener or hydrogen peroxide. If someone has ear tubes or a hole in their eardrum, they should not use those substances because they can be harmful.

Other popular solutions like Q-tips should be avoided. They can act like a plunger, pushing wax further into the ear. In some cases, the cotton can come off the stick and get stuck deep inside the ear canal. No matter how irritating ear wax can be, Dr. Pearl warns not to put anything inside the ear “smaller than an elbow.”

“It seems like every couple of years there is another device sold on TV, and one of the latest ones was the corkscrew. You screw it into the ear canal, and it is supposed to pull all the wax out, however it does not work well,” Dr. Pearl said. “We’ve had patients try some devices they found in their drawers at home. Bobby pins, toothpicks. We even had a patient use a screwdriver, but please do not do this!”

When to see a doctor

If someone has an excessive build-up of ear wax that’s causing them discomfort or trouble hearing, they should skip the at home remedies and see a doctor instead. Some patients benefit greatly from a yearly or twice yearly visit to an otolaryngologist or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to have their ears cleaned by a medical professional.

“We’ve got a number of different techniques. We've got little scoopers, we've got vacuums and some doctors like to use water to just irrigate out the ear canal,” Dr. Pearl said. “All of them are safe, acceptable techniques that can easily remove wax.”