Dubious claims are regularly made by the practitioners of Coning, the Ear Wax Candling practice. The scientific facts seem to be that Ear Coning does no practical good and actually presents its patients with potential safety risks. Still, the belief in the efficacy and the practice of ear Coning continues.
What is an Ear Wax Candle?
Various procedures that involve the use of rolled tubular or slightly cone-shaped cotton or hemp cloth candles that is impregnated with beeswax and essential oils have been around for many years. No one really knows where this practice originated. Some practitioners claim that it came from ancient Tibet, or from China. The Hopi Indian tribe is credited by one manufacturer for which Hopi tribal leaders have vehemently denied. The continued assertion by this manufacturer has led to the Hopi nation leaders to file legal requests to have their name removed from this endorsement. It is always from some far away exotic land or people that its origins are credited, shrouded in mystery and tradition. It is not as if “it was invented in Cleveland, Ohio” or it was first used in “Wall-Walla, Washington” would make it any more believable so a distant and preferably ancient provenance is generally cited.
Even Ancient Atlantis has been cited as a possible founder of this practice. This too does not improve its provenance in the eyes of the non-believers or the uncommitted.
Ear Wax Candle or Ear Coning Method
In short, Candling entails the insertion of a hollow rolled wax-impregnated cloth tube into one’s ear canal, and the protruding end is lit on fire and allowed to burn down to within several inches of the patient’s ear. The heat and smoke within the hollow tube allegedly causes a ‘negative pressure’ in the ear canal which is stated to soften and draw-out deep seated ear wax, sloughed skin cells, toxins and general ‘bad energy.’
The purported benefits of candling range widely. More questionable claims include ‘purifying the mind,’ ‘strengthening the brain,’ ‘cleaning & aligning the chakras,’ ‘improving ones aura,’ and ‘stabilizing emotions’ among many more obtuse and bizarre benefits.
Often this service is provided by a practitioner at health, beauty and spa centers for a nominal perhaps exorbitant fee. I have seen as much as $90.00 being the cost for ‘a candling session’ with a therapist, an amount which for me would be sufficient causation for needing a ‘stabilizing emotions’ therapy! Ear wax candles can be bought at many health and natural stores for between $2.00 and $10.00 each, and come with a printed page of instructions for their use, if you ask.
I have used ear candles in the home for personal use and I was pleased with the result. I introduced this ear wax candle practice to my elderly father whom is more than a little hard of hearing. We coned both his ears and a copious amount of some dark waxy substance was in fact, found inside the spent candle when we dissected it afterward.
I could describe the resultant substance as being like a shriveled twisted dark brown French fry. Upon re-candling each ear with a new candle, very little wax was found in the resultant used candle which seemed to suggest that the bulk of the blockage had been removed with the first session.
(A typical ear-wax candle cut apart to reveal interior after use)
More to point, he said that he could hear much better in both ears as a result. He said that the ‘wet, sloppy sound’ he was hearing when he yawned deeply was now absent.
This again seems to suggest that something physical, a positive good, had been achieved. However, medical science would disagree.
What Science has to Say about Ear Coning
A study done in 1996 by Spokane Ear, Nose and throat Clinic of Washington, USA surveyed 122 otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat, head & neck disorder surgeons) and were asked to report on any of their patients whom had been harmed by ear coning. They cited at least 21 injuries in their collective repertoire that included cases of ear canal obstruction caused by the wax of the candle dripping into the ear canal, melted candle wax adhering directly upon the delicate eardrum (which required a special surgery to scrape off,) and one case of a perforated ear drum that apparently either the patient or the practitioner having inserted the candle too deeply into the ear canal (1).
Critics of ear candling cite their home experiments which entail using a ear wax candle inserted into a small bottle and taped ‘air tight’ to simulate the conditions of the ear and candle in practical usage, and noted that no smoke enters the bottle during candling. This is a large part of the claim by proponents why candling works; that warm smoke enters the ear canal. Most users of ear wax candles will tell you that an ‘air-tight seal’ is unlikely with the human ear and that sometimes the smoke does escape the bottom of the candle and from the ear. Repositioning the candle is then done. ‘Air tight’ taping to the bottle does not emulate the real-world use of candling in the human ear and thus, is an invalid assertion of disproof.
What Both Sides Are Saying About Ear Coning
Advocates state that the warm smoke that does enter the ear softens the wax, and the burning end of the candle creates a negative pressure within which gently sucks-out the deep obstruction. The mass extracted re-hardens piecemeal towards the lower end of the candle, which is often dissected afterward by the practitioner or patient for examination. Critics cite that the required ‘negative vacuum’ required for pulling ear wax out of the ear canal would have to be excessive, easily enough to rupture the ear drum. Their implication is that since the ear drum does not rupture, this self-validates their claim that negative pressure does not exist and thus, the whole candling theory is dead wrong.
These same doctors instead advocate the use of those hand-held plastic syringes with the big rubber ball on the end that look like turkey basters for wax removal. These work just fine to lift wax out of the ear with vacuum pressure low enough to not rupture the eardrum, so why does candling not also do so by the same criteria?
These arguments go back and forth between the believers and non-believers’ camps. As someone whom has used homeopathic ear wax coning only four or five times personally (at about one year intervals) I would cite favorable results every time I have used these. Yet when confronted with the voluminous scientific debunking facts I am somewhat torn now as whom to believe. I can easily enough discount the majority of the frivolous claims made by advocates of candling. It is more difficult to discount my own positive personal experiences.
I saw how well it worked for my father on two separate occasions and he most definitely experienced improved hearing with the use of candling. The risk of setting one’s hair or furniture on fire is insufficient disproof of ear candling’s success, yet these are also included as reasons why this is unwise, unsafe, cause to be made unlawful and should not be used by anyone.
Ear candles cannot be sold in Canada these days. They used to be sold here prior to 2006 I think, which was about the last time that I purchased and used these. The Medical Devices Regulations of Canada’s FDA has stated that this device needs to be sanction or licensed by the Therapeutic Products Programme of Health Canada to be legally used for medical benefit. Trying to outmaneuver this legal requirement, some sellers and distributors of ear wax candles have advertised these as being ‘for entertainment purposes’ but that allegation has not held up. There is no other reasonable purpose for ear candles purchase except for ear coning for a perceived medical benefit.
One could easily ignore the whimsical claims of balanced chakras, ancient Antediluvian medicine and other far-fetched claims. I certainly have. It is the preponderance of recent and conclusive scientific evidence and research that says ear candling is ineffective and potentially harmful to health, hearing and life that is becoming more convincing. I just cannot explain my having experienced such a positive benefit from having used Coning.
- Cite: PubMed.gov U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
- Cite: Canada Health on Ear Candling