People affected by ichthyosis often have problems in their ears.The hyperkeratosis, or fast-growing skin, is as much a problem in the ears as it is on any other body surface. But inside the ear canal, we also have to deal with ear wax, and the fast-growing skin can combine and create giant plugs of gunk that occlude the eardrum and make it hard to hear. The ear-blockage topic comes up frequently on forums and at the national FIRST conferences, often enough that the conference usually has a session dedicated specifically to eye and ear care.
Some families deal with this by visiting a doctor every few months for a clean out. Others use olive oil drops or other drops that you can buy at the pharmacy that soften the wax so it will come out. Some people make a curette out of a paperclip or bobby pin and scrape out their ears. (Doctors usually advise against this.) Others use a hydrogen peroxide mixture and flush their ears with it. (Doctors get nervous when they hear this, too.)
I’ll write about the make-the-doctors-nervous methods we use, but I wanted to take some time to write about ear candling.
Ear candling, or auricular coning, is a naturopathic remedy touted to be a method used by various ancient civilizations (including the mythical Atlantis) and the Hopi Indians, a southwestern American Indian culture. The Hopi Indians themselves say that this claim is false. Ear candles are long, hollow taper candles. They are made from cloth dipped in paraffin or beeswax and shaped into a cone. They cost anywhere from $2 to $10 each and are widely available on the Internet. Or you can go to a salon and pay $20 or $30 for the service.
Basically, you lay on your side, the candle is placed in your ear, and a plate surrounds the base of the candle to catch any “toxins” or candle wax or whatever else might happen. The candle is lit, it burns down to about 4 inches from your head (did I mention that the candle is a 12 inch long taper? This ain’t no birthday cake candle!)
All information that I have found that supports the usefulness of these candles are also sites that sell them. In general, they supposedly function in one of three ways:
- The lit candle creates a vacuum and literally sucks the wax (and sometimes toxins) out of your ear.
- The lit candle warms the ear wax and melts it so it will come out on its own.
- Ear candles don’t actually do anything about ear wax, but they clean your blood and brain of impurities.
Let’s examine these theories.
1. Candle Vacuum.
In order to have suction, you have to create negative pressure, like pulling the air out of a straw to take a drink, or using an engine like in a vacuum cleaner hose. This article says, “Tympanometric measurements in an ear canal model demonstrated that ear candles do not produce negative pressure.”
While we’re at it, there’s this video where someone sets up a candle and a tube with a flame on the end. If there was negative pressure created by the hollow candle, the flame at the end of the tube would be burning sideways, toward the candle. But as you can see, it burns straight up. Thus, no pressure in the tube. Applied to ear wax, this means the ear wax would NOT get sucked out of an ear canal.
2. Melting or softening earwax.
60% of ear wax is made of keratin from shed skin cells. The rest is a mix of oils, cholesterols, acids, that all burn at different temperatures. Mythbusters attempted to make a candle from earwax several years ago. It sparked and sputtered and went out, but it neither melted nor softened. It appears that the melting point of the paraffin in the candle is around 120F, and the melting point of keratin in the wax is about 145F. I see a problem here.
Our body temperature is pretty consistently about 97F. Anything over 110F has a risk of burns. At 125, you have 2 minutes of exposure until getting burned. That’s not enough to melt the earwax. At 140F, you can scald your hands in 6 seconds. And at 150, it only takes 2 seconds to get seriously burned. The candle takes a good 10 minutes to burn. So if you somehow did melt the 145F wax in your ear, you’re then exposing your ear canal to 145F wax for well over 6 seconds. Yet somehow, this process doesn’t result in burns? Additionally, if you’re laying on your side with the candle sticking up, which way is the melted wax (candle AND ear wax) going to go? Up and out, or down and onto your eardrum? Yeah…Yikes!
3. Cleaning the blood and brain.
Mystical impurities are the mainstay of medical scam tactics. They attempt to suck you in by citing bogus studies, make things up about how the body works, or do magic color changing water tricks to make you believe. Skeptics and scientists call this “pseudoscience” or “woo-woo,” sometimes just “woo.” Over the years, we’ve seen blood cleanses, colon cleanses, magnetic cleanses, oxidation cleanses, radiation cleanses, mystic touching, pH cleansing, and dozens more. Now the ear candle people claim to cleanse your toxins by stimulating the blood and lymph. Er….that doesn’t even make a lick of sense. What are these mystery toxins? Is there something wrong with your kidneys, whose job it is to flush out the blood? How does a candle that neither heats nor vacuums out ear wax that it is pretty much directly touching manage to stimulate blood on the other side of several layers of skin, fat, bone and blood vessels? That’s just idiotic.
Don’t believe me yet? Check out the following:
In Canada, ear candles are classed as medical devices. It is illegal to bring them into the country or to sell them.
These audiologists ran some tests and took pictures. The “wax” in the candle appeared both in the candle stuck in someone’s ear and in the one stuck in a test tube. The ear wax in the test subject was still present after using the candle. The wax is the burned cloth embedded in the original candle.
Disclaimer: Not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. [name of the company], our associates, contractors and vendors assume no liability for the ear candling process, or for any damage, harm, unexpected reaction or complication that might occur during or after the administration of ear candling. The user assumes full responsibility and does not hold the seller liable for any claims, obligations, injury, expense or damage resulting from the use of this product. The FDA has no authority to evaluate this product for safety or effectiveness since an ear candle is not a medical device. Do not use ear candles as a substitute for professional treatment.
In short, don’t do it. If ear candles clean anything at all, it would be dollar bills from your wallet.