Ear Candles: Truths, Myths, and Our Experience

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Ear Candles

I will humbly share a funny story with you today. If you promise not to laugh. Promise? PROMISE?

We took someone else’s word for it. This always gets us in trouble.

Matt and I were in the health food store standing over a display of ear candles. You know the ones? People talk about all the disgusting junk that comes out of their ears, how clean their ears feel afterward, and how well they can hear. We had heard all of this, but never did any research on the benefits or tried them ourselves.

We laugh all the time about feeling like an old 80-something year old couple who can’t hear each other. “What’s that?” “Come again?” “Huh?” It’s frustrating and funny at the same time… and we stood there wondering if the ear candles would finally deliver us from the “feeling-much-older-than-we-actually-are” syndrome we’ve been suffering from for several years.

Low and behold, an unsuspecting shopper… minding her own business. As she grabbed for a few packages of the candles – yup, we thought we had found our potential “expert testimonial” for the product and we fired away with an arsenal of questions.

We were convinced to purchase after she told us how long she had been using them, how well they cleaned her ears out, and how safe they were. (And really, I just wanted to see what repulsive goo would remain in my candle after the treatment. I’m gross like that.)

Our first ear candling experience

We set up a small station, watched the YouTube instructional video to make sure we didn’t burn the house down, and got out the camera. (Yes, I had intended to write a super serious piece on ear health and the superhuman hearing abilities I would have after ear candling – complete with pictures.)

Ear Candles 2

“Yay! I’m going to hear better after this, right?”

After getting over the fear that my candle was going to burn too quickly and catch my hair on fire if Matt took his eyes off me, I was able to relax. The candle created a warm feeling in my ear. The slight crackle almost sounded like a cozy fireplace. I almost dozed off. With a small torch burning over my head. (Probably the exact reason the instructions strongly suggest using TWO people for this.)

We had a nice relaxing Saturday afternoon as we lit small fires on our couch, just above our very flammable hair, and awaited the promised results.

We couldn’t WAIT to cut open the remaining portion of the burned candles. We hovered over the hollow candle as it was exposed… a powdery, yellowish, laced-with-dark-clumps-of-something, waxy inner residue. We sounded like 3rd graders as we admired the atrocious gunk that had appeared. We weren’t so easily convinced though. It was almost too much. Matt said he wanted to do an experiment during which he would burn a candle outside of his ear to see if this same residue accumulated. Unfortunately, we had used up all of our candles.

Ear Candles 3

You should have heard our deep discussion afterward, acting all science-y, like we knew exactly how the candles worked.

“I suppose I’m not surprised the candle drew so much out of my ear. The Eustachian tube is long and curving, like our intestines, so there was obviously just a lot of wax buildup in there.”

“Well, when the candle is lit, it must produce a vacuum of sorts – pulling stuff out of the ear canal.”

False, and false some more. Good thing neither of us is a doctor or scientist.

In the days that followed, we continued our same communication patterns…

“Huh?”

“What did you say?”

“Those candles didn’t work, did they?”

“I don’t feel any different.”

What I later learned about ear candling

As I prepared to write an article on our disappointing (yet relaxing) experience with ear candles, I found some very interesting information. I dug and dug and dug because I still didn’t know what legitimate reasons the manufacturers had for selling this product.

For starters, I found out today the Eustachian tube is only about 1.3 inches long. (Not long and winding like our intestines.) Ooops.

Then I went to the Harmony’s Candles website to find more information about the candles we used. One of the first things I read:

“NO! Ear Candles are not medical devices, therefore, they can not remove objects, including wax, yeast/candida, bacteria and/or fungus from the ear. Ear Candles do NOT create a vacuum. They create a vortex which is a big difference. A simple test proves this: Close the tip of an Ear Candle, burn it down while holding it outside of anyone’s ear – now look and see what is inside. Or you can take another Ear Candle and hold it over salt or sand … there will be NO upward movement.”

{cough}

Ooops again. Thanks a lot, fellow shopper in the health food store! (Yes, I’m totally blaming it on her.)

So Matt was onto something; we would have found the same unpleasant waxy buildup in a candle burned outside of our ear.

I read on and found more interesting dirt on Harmony’s Candles. Apparently, they are designed as a holistic wellness treatment, meant to be “natural and relaxing,” and in some cases healing. The site stresses the importance of correctly using a candle that is made of quality materials (food-grade wax and unbleached muslin), and making an educated decision about whether candling is right for you. This specific company actually appears to be working hard to debunk any myths and misinformation that may be circulating about ear candles. I respect that. (Apparently there are companies making false claims about the health benefits of using ear candles. This has the FDA up in arms about the product, which is not a medical device.)

I’m sure that candling is a wonderful holistic treatment, when applied properly by someone who has more knowledge than myself. Benefits are most likely not noticed after just one use.

Take note; I’m not poking fun at the candles as a treatment modality, but at the claims people have made about candles as a wax removal tool.

The great disappointment

Mind you, the “disappointment” wasn’t with the candles themselves, but with my own misconceptions. We didn’t get exactly what we hoped for when using the ear candles, but it was a fun little experiment. I learned a lot about the ancient practice, and we may even give them another shot (with new, more enlightened expectations) at some point.

So we don’t have clean ears after all. We can’t hear each other any better. And we will continue to “What?” and “Huh?” each other to death.

Ear Candles 4

Oh well, it provided for a nice little photo shoot and an almost-nap. Next time I’ll smile at the lady in the grocery store and say, “Oh really?” about any product she endorses. Then I’ll quickly come home and Google it.

The upside? You get to learn from our experience.

Have you ever used ear candles? What was your understanding of their benefits?

*******

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Levine Lane says

    I just found this site, very interesting topic. I have never heard of ear candles. I noticed several people using hydrogen peroxide. It also comes in kits at the drug store. I and my daughter both are allergic to peroxide in our ears. They swell up and close the ear canal. It actually take weeks to clear up.

  2. Jennifer says

    Great post! I tried ear candling once in the hopes of ‘clearing up’ my hearing. Did both ears, looked inside the tube, saw nothing, didn’t try it after that. Amazingly my hearing started working a bit better after I stopped working in a car garage, lol! Glad to hear some of the myths exposed!

    I’ve heard about using olive oil, my husband actually tried it and it worked. Apparently when I came to visit him before we were dating he had a terrible ear stoppage and used an olive oil spray. The gunk came out about 2 hours before I got there! Yay! LOL.
    I’ve used a neti-pot for some time for clearing up my sinuses and noticed that seems to help my ears a bit, too.

  3. Tonya says

    I used to use ear candles and swore by them…until one day…the ear wax did go up into the candle, but then it melted from the heat, and ran back into the ear and burned her eardrum! Never again. Now we use the peroxide/water flush kits in the drugstore.

  4. nancy says

    I worked as a CMA for years and have lavaged many ears. We had the patient use ear drops for about 3days before ( they can be purchased at the pharmacy). when the patients came in we mixed warm( to touch) water 2/3 and 1/3 hydrogen perx. in a n emesis basin holding the basin under the affected ear. We used a large syringe to put water mixture in the ear. We were surprised at the large pieces of wax that came out . Remember to drape a towel around patient first to save clothes.

  5. Shea says

    This was an interesting read. I’ve always been skeptical of ear candling since they did a segment on 60 Minutes or 20/20… something along those lines and came back with similar findings to yours.

    I use the peroxide drops, as well. To get the benefit of any warmth the candles provide, you can also use a blow drier on your ears (set the heat setting for what is comfortable)! It’s soothing and seems to help get things moving a little more.

  6. Norm says

    I’m not surprised that you thought candling was for clearing out wax because that is what many people claim.

    I had a therapist who offered to do mine for free during her candling training, and I checked out the history and science behind it and decided it wasn’t for me. However, I ~am~ interested in the recipes here for ear drops. I can’t ~bear~ getting water in my ears as it feels really uncomfortable, and I’m wondering if that’s what’s called ‘swimmer’s ear’? I’d like to try the ear drops, and I do actually have some hydrogen peroxide (I can’t remember why I originally bought it – dreadful memory! – but have been reading about it since). Can anyone who has posted or uses their own ear drops tell me what percentage Hydrogen Peroxide is safe to use?

    Thanks!

  7. tammy says

    disagree strongly.. have used them for years and allways had relief and felt better….

  8. shar says

    hydrogen peroxide in the ears…anything ear nose throat…..soar throats, clogging, congestion…….in those areas….hydrogen peroxide dripped into the ear provides the oxidation to turn things around really fast…..like anti oxidation….but NOW.
    do not know about unclogging them with it, but this gem is golden, cheap…etc.
    Ear aches….the whole thing….Ears nose throat.

  9. shar says

    I used candles on both of my grade school aged kids. I purchased 4 candles, but only did one ear of each child. They were VERY, extremely, “mom, you come up with the craziest things” skeptical!
    Results: Both came back after being out playing for a few hours, asking to please do the other ear—they felt lopsided.
    Done.
    “Thanks Mom!”

    So yes, they do something!

  10. Camille says

    It’s funny, because my husband and I were interested in doing this recently, as when I was younger my aunt use to candle my ears. I don’t remember much about how effective it was, but I do recall it being very soothing. And my husband, much like yours, avoids the Q-tips, well at least I think so. hahaha
    Upon my research, due to my son having his ear blocked by build up (to the point that you could not see his ear drum) I found an interesting and natural way to remove that gunk, its effective and painless. However with most things that you want to work it takes time. Soften some coconut oil and use an eye dropper to apply to your ears twice a day (while laying on your side) and allow for the drops to flow downward, as uncomfortable as it may be for a few seconds. It feels quite ticklish. Do this for 3 days in a row, then comes the fun part 🙂 Take a syringe (the kind you use to give a child tylenol or advil) and gently flush your ear with luke warm water. The oil that you have been applying to your ears, will have loosened up the debris and the water will push it out safely. you will be amazed at the size of the chunks that come out. so knarly! My son did very well, didn’t even cry, did I mention he’s only 3?!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Very cool! And like the coconut oil method you describe, I assume ear candling can be effective over time. We only tried it once, and come to find out, it was never designed to remove ear wax like we originally thought. 🙂

  11. harriet says

    love you guys. I used to work in a nursing home and the administrator had a candle ear thingy done and actually had the inside of her ear burned.I told her from now on use tepid hydrogen peroxide warmed in the microwave.lay down turn head pour in.let sit for awhile you decide.flip over do other side. MAKE sure it s tepid or you’ll get dizzy. in 1982 my 5yr old daughter was always getting ear aches I went to an old fashioned country doctor.love em.he used just plain old tepid hydrogen peroxide.SHE NEVER had a problem again and it cleans your ears too.although sometimes it comes out in a big glob on your pillow after sleeping.YUK!!anyway have used on grandkids myself everyone no problems as far as I know and its been 40years. keep up the great work!!!

  12. Heidi says

    Great post! I did ear candles once with my sister as kids and we came to a similar conclusion as you.

    As far as I know, wax does not get into the eustachian tube because it is located in the middle ear, behind the ear drum. It serves to equalize the pressure in the middle ear since it is a completely enclosed cavity and connects to the pharynx (or throat). The wax is only produced in the ear canal before the ear drum to catch bugs and dirt as a protection to the sensitive ear drum (or tympanic membrane).

      • Heidi says

        LOL! The only reason I know ear anatomy is from my bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing sciences. Before that, the ear was a mystical organ to me. 🙂

  13. Nana says

    My family has used the ear candles for several years and we feel great afterwards! We can get the wax out much easier afterwards and we will continue to use them even though many people think they are useless. Even my granddaughter who is deaf (she is 8 years old) asks for them whenever she feels pressure from the wax buildup. As with anything else in this world, if you use something improperly you may get injured so just be sensible. . . don’t use it without someone else to help you, and don’t expect miracles. The major drawback that I see is the expense and the time involved.

  14. Sherral says

    Ears are too delicate to try things like candling. Should something go wrong you cannot repair eardrums. A trip to the docs office to have your ears cleaned is far safer. A simple solution of water and hydrogen peroxide is used to flush earwax safely by trained professionals with the proper equipment. I’m way into do it yourself holistic remedies but somethings are best left to those who are trained.

  15. Sharon Campbell says

    I had my ear wax get blocked from the cold water in the high school pool. Usually, because I wear hearing aids (warmth from the batteries) my ear wax is very liquid-like. When the water splashed in my ears, I twice had that blocked sensation. I did have to use the ear candles twice, and I used warmed olive oil first, but they worked at clearing out that blocked sensation. I was skeptical, and found it WAS very helpful. On TWO DIFFERENT occasions.

  16. Bethany says

    I recently used them as an experiment. I have a friend that swears by them. I’m now a believer. I thought that I was loosing my hearing in my right ear for the last 3 years. After using the ear candle I could hear very clearly. My results were different. I had actual wax in a long stream in the end of the burnt candle. After the 2nd one, then I had the powdery residue that you had.

  17. Susan says

    It is too bad you did not get the results you wanted. Ear candles have been around since ancient Egyptian times, so I would assume some people got good results!

    I have used ear candles for years, and , YES my hearing got better, but NOT WITH THE FIRST USE….. I used them once a week for several weeks before my hearing was any better, but it DID help, and Ear candles are a GOD SEND for an ear ache!!

    Peroxide is great for cleaning wax out, but be sure to follow the treatment with a few drops of Olive oil so as not to dry out the ear drumb

  18. Bea says

    I did do the experiment myself: burning one in the ear, and one in my cupped hand. We examined the residues and found about a 15% difference. There was a bit of something extra in the ear-burned residue, and it was a bit different, visually, but similar. So, some of the stuff left over had something to do with the ear.

    I did feel really good, doing it. It did create a feeling of something moving in the ear – an occasional movement, so it did feel like something was being “sucked” out.

    I soon got a rash all over my ears, which was very itchy and took weeks to get rid of.

    And, after the first session, my ears began to feel clogged up. I had never, not even as a swimmer, had any ear problems, at all. I had only done the session because my friend was trying to start a business doing it (this was 15 years ago) and she wanted to try it on me. So, I tried a second session, to see if something needed to be finished up. Nope.

    Since then, I have always had a pressure build-up in my ears. I have great hearing; in fact, folks are often alarmed when I overhear what they are saying. That hasn’t changed, and I don’t get ear infections, thankfully! But, I do have to “pop” my ears constantly, like normal people just have to do when changing altitudes. All in all, it was a gentle lesson on not messing with the body any more than necessary and not using goofy sounding methods.

  19. Pat says

    LOL!! Thanks for the pictures…as uncoordinated as I am, it would take half a dozen people present to make sure I didn’t set the house on fire!! 😀

  20. Janeen says

    Thanks for your post!! Had to laugh as your experience was exactly like mine !! 🙂 I remember my kids helping me and I too was afraid my hair would catch on fire. The inside of my candle looked the same and my hearing did not improve at all. One of my friends had her ears cleaned out by her doctor using a type of flushing them out with a syringe. He got big plugs of gunk out of each ear. She could then feel fresh air in there and HEAR! She said it was the BEST thing ever !! Beat any Spa treatment she had ever had. It felt so good she jokingly said, “Felt like he should have taken me out to dinner before that ” LOL
    I would LOVE to find something that would really work because my husband and I also suffer from the selective hearing loss syndrome 🙂
    Thanks again for all your posts!! I use all your suggestions and home remedies.