It's said to be an ancient Egyptian healing practice and a favourite of the Hopi - and certainly a pack of holistic practitioners are pushing it, but should you really let someone put a lit waxy stick in your ear?
Ear candling, or coning, also known as "thermo auricular therapy," a procedure that involves inserting a hollow cone-shaped device into your hearing orifice, is touted as a cleanup op for wax, yeast, fungus and other fun stuff.
The cones are usually made of unbleached cotton coated with beeswax and are 9 to 12 inches long. The wider top end is lit, and the idea is that the heat from the flame creates a vacuum that draws debris out of the ear.
Proponents claim that additional benefits may include detoxification of the sinus and lymph systems, relief of allergies, tinnitus and migraines, energy alignment, relaxation, spiritual and emotional clearing and sharpening of mental function, taste, smell, hearing, vision and colour perception.
The cost of this wonder cure is approximately $40 to $75.
I have have experienced this ear-warming procedure myself, and let me tell you, I wouldn't advocate it. For one thing, I suffered a burn that took over a month to heal. Luckily, it was outside my ear, but some folks are not so fortunate and have apparently suffered internal damage. And while it seemed pretty neat at the time to see a wax buildup at the base of the cone and think yucky stuff was being removed, the fact is there's no evidence candling actually cleans anything at all.
Yes, there is a waxy/powdery build-up at the base of the cone afterwards, but this accumulation is from the candle itself and will appear even if it's not inserted in anything. I know, I tried it. You should also realize that Health Canada has outlawed the import, sale and manufacturing of these candles as medical devices.
If you feel you must have this experience, choose someone who has performed it for many years and can convince you the molten candle won't scorch your ear. Ensure that they use an adapter, a device preventing the candle from dripping into the ear.
And one more thing. A call to the Hopi Tribal Council in Kykotsmovi, Arizona, reveals the following: coning "is not and has never been a practice conducted by the Hopi tribe or the Hopi people," according to public relations officer Vanessa Charles. End of story.
What the experts say
"Ear candling should be practised only by a competent natural medicine practitioner who understands the use of an orthoscope. The ear canal should be properly inspected and a full case history taken before any candles are inserted. This is not a mainline therapy, but an adjunct therapy that fits within natural medicine. It can be beneficial because it has a warming effect. According to traditional Chinese medicine, if there is cold within the ear canal, heat would balance it. The warming can loosen wax if a person has a heavy buildup, though if there is a heavy buildup one should see one's medical doctor."
JUNE ANN KELLY , Canadian president, examining board of natural medicine practitioners
"Ear candling is a dangerous hoax. The process does not remove any wax from the ear canal and can, in fact, leave behind something that is not required. If you're lucky, this is a small coating of smoke or soot over the skin of the canal and drum. If you're unlucky, a piece of burning hot wax drips onto the ear drum, where it is very problematic to remove. If you're really, really unlucky, that wax burns a hole in the eardrum, leaving a perforation. In my opinion, ear candling should be outlawed. Practitioners have no medical knowledge and most don't even have the ability to determine whether or not ear wax is present, let alone any other disorder. How can it clear the sinuses? Sinuses have no connection with the ear canal whatsoever."
MICHAEL HAWKE , MD, ear, nose and throat specialist, professor of otolaryngology, faculty of medicine, University of Toronto
"I customize people's path to their own truth, and ear candling is just one of the many modalities I use. Essentially, what is the person not doing to achieve what they want to do? An anxiety or an issue creates an emotional state that creates a sickness. The ear candle cleans deposits in the ear passage that have created issues of not being able to listen. I don't diagnose anything. If something complicated is wrong with the ear, candling is not going to help. But if it's something emotional where the ear candle is going to be able to take away some of the deposits preventing the person from listening, you are giving the person a greater sense of his six senses."
NISSO LAREDO , holistic practitioner, energy healer, clairvoyant, reiki master
"There is no scientific proof why or how it works, just a lot of testimonials from people who say it can relieve headaches, sinus infections, stress - all these things. They used to say the debris in the candle is ear wax. That's not so. I sell it as strictly relaxation. It can help with allergies, temporal mandibular joint syndrome, anxiety and hearing problems only if they're not physical problems. The benefits come from the heat, the quiet, and it creates a vacuum. It does something, but I can't tell you physically what it does. It can help people who have ear trouble when flying."
RITA SCHALLENBERG , holistic practitioner, the Wellness Institute, Toronto
"What may be removed is microscopic and therefore invisible to the naked eye. Most people who have had coning - I call it coning, not candling - have had immediate positive results. For example, if a person has persistent headaches, they will find that the headaches will diminish. I recommend one session a week for three weeks for optimum results. This has been proven in my 10 years of doing treatments and teaching students. I treat coning as the ancients treated it, and that is for spiritual enlightenment and emotional cleansing."
SANDRA YEMM , natural health practitioner in the field of energy medicine, Grimsby
"I've done one repair surgery for somebody who had ear candling. The wax had burnt right through his eardrum and he was in excruciating pain. I have also seen at least two people who had the molten wax stuck in their ear. Luckily, I managed to dig it out without long-term problems. As far as the claims about it curing wax and tinnitus and sinuses, it's all nonsense. There is nothing that setting your ear on fire is going to cure. The warmth may indeed feel better, but it's not going to change your immune system."
RICK FOX , MD, ear, nose and throat specialist, Toronto