Ear Candling in Singapore: Proposed Benefits, Actual Risks and Myths Busted by Audiologists

Sep 7, 2022

Article by Hearing Partners, contributed by ​Sadrina Shah, Clinical Audiologist at Hearing Partners

Ear candling is said by practitioners to be effective in cleaning the ears and providing several health benefits. But it hasn’t been proven effective through scientific research; in fact, it may cause more harm than good.

This article will discuss what ear candling is, whether it is safe, and the potential side effects of the practice. We’ll also bust 4 common myths about ear cleaning and candling. Read on to find out more!

Note: This article is purely for educational purposes. Hearing Partners does not encourage anyone to try ear candling.

What is Ear Candling?

Woman undergoing ear candling procedure

Ear candling is a practice that uses a special candle to draw out ear wax and other debris from the inner ear. It’s also believed to treat conditions such as sinus infections and earaches among many others. 

The ear candle used for the procedure is made by soaking hollow, cone-shaped pieces of fabric in beeswax, paraffin and soy wax. During the procedure, the candle is inserted into your ear and lit for 15 minutes.

Other names for this technique include ear coning and thermo-auricular therapy.

How Does Ear Candling Work

Here’s how the ear candling process works:

  • You will lie on your chest or on your side with one ear facing up.
  • A protective paper may be placed around the candle and on the ear to prevent hot wax from dripping onto your face.
  • A towel may also be used to cover your face and neck.
  • The therapist will insert the candle into your ear canal, light the top and let it burn for 15 minutes or until about 8 – 10cm of the candle is left.
  • The flame is extinguished carefully before the candle is removed from your ear.
  • The therapist will use a cotton ball or pad to clean your outer ear.

As the candle burns, it’s said to create a slight suction which pulls wax out of the ear. It’s also believed that the heat from the melting candle may soften earwax, allowing it to fall out in the subsequent days.

Proposed Benefits of Ear Candling

There has been no scientific evidence to back up the said benefits of ear candling. However, practitioners still boast many benefits such as:

  • Removing wax and debris from the ear
  • Improving hearing
  • Improving blood circulation and vision
  • Curing sinus infections, colds and flus
  • Reducing stress
  • Relieving headaches and sore throats 
  • Treating dizziness, jaw aches, tinnitus and swimmer’s ear

These claims are unfounded as there is currently no research or evidence to prove that ear candling does what practitioners claim.

Is Ear Candling Safe?

No, ear candling isn’t safe. In fact, numerous research indicates that it can cause more harm than good.

Side Effects

A study by Rafferty et. al. found that

  1. There was no negative pressure created during ear candling, which means that it does not help to draw wax out of the ear.
  2. Any debris removed from candling came from the candle itself and was not from the ear wax. Thus, ear candling may be depositing candle wax into the ears rather than removing ear wax.

Possible injuries

In 2010, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers against using ear candles due to the possibility of serious injuries.

They’ve found no scientific evidence that ear candling is effective for medical purposes. In fact, they’ve stated that this practice can

  • cause burns to the face and ears,
  • puncture the eardrum, and 
  • clog the ear canal with candle wax causing blockages.

The FDA has warned that children are more prone to injuries and complications from using ear candles.

Long-term complications

Ear candling may also lead to long-term risks and complications such as: 

  • Damage to the eardrum
  • Ear canal infections and blockages
  • Hearing loss

4 Myths About Ear Cleaning and Candling

When it comes to ear cleaning and candling, here are 4 common myths that you may have. Read on as our audiologists bust these myths and share the truth!

Myth 1: Our ears need to be cleaned

Our ears actually have a self-cleaning mechanism. The skin in our ears grows from the middle of the eardrum and moves outwards towards the entrance of the ear canal. As the skin grows, it brings dust and earwax along with it.

Jaw motions such as chewing or swallowing also help to facilitate this movement. Once the earwax has reached the outer part of the ear canal, the lack of moisture will cause it to dry up and flake away.

Did you know?
The earwax produced by our ears helps to take unwanted substances (e.g., hair, dust) with it as it flakes off, effectively cleaning the ear canals.

Myth 2: Earwax is bad and must be removed

Earwax is good to have as it is self-cleansing, antibacterial, antifungal and helps to lubricate the ear canal. Additionally, it removes unwanted substances from our ears. 

This typically creates a vicious cycle where the earwax that provides lubrication is removed, making the ears drier and causing itchiness, and you’ll feel the need to clean your ears with a cotton swab again. This may lead people to think that their ears are dirty when in fact, it’s the lack of wax that’s causing the itchiness.

Note: Even though earwax is good to have, too much of it may also be a problem!

Myth 3: I should use cotton swabs to clean my ears

Cotton swabs (or Q-tips) are great for cleaning in general, but not when it comes to your ears! Instead of cleaning your ears, earwax can be further pushed into the ear. This may cause 

  • injury to the eardrum or 
  • infection due to impacted earwax.

Myth 4: Ear candling can help to remove earwax

Ear candling is an unorthodox form of treatment that claims to clean the ears and provide other benefits. However, these claims have not been clinically verified and instead have been associated with considerable risks and long-term complications.

Alternatives to Ear Candling in Singapore

Earwax may build up due to several reasons. For some people, their body naturally produces more earwax, leading to a buildup. For others, the habit of inserting objects such as cotton buds into the ear can cause earwax to accumulate inside the canal.

If you need to remove excess earwax, these methods for ear wax removal provide a safer alternative compared to ear candling.

Earwax irrigation

This is performed using a syringe-like tool that creates a powerful water jet to flush out stubborn earwax. The procedure is done seated and is usually painless, though it may cause slight discomfort and temporary dizziness.

Do note that this treatment may not be suitable for individuals with middle ear diseases, punctured eardrums or a history of ear surgery. This is because the powerful jet of water could injure the skin linings of your ear canal, resulting in complications such as pain, vertigo and eardrum perforation.

While this treatment isn’t for everyone, it’s generally a safe and effective method used by general practitioners (GP) to remove earwax.

Microsuction

Microsuction is one of the most effective methods for earwax removal and is done by Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctors. After finding out your treatment history, the ENT specialist will use an otoscope that lights up and magnifies your inner ear to get a clearer visual. Next, a suction device will be used to remove excess earwax.

Your audiologist, GP or ENT doctor can advise you on the method that’s most suitable for your condition.

FAQs About Earwax and Candling

Is candling good for the ears?

There is no evidence that candling is good for the ears or effective to remove earwax. The US FDA has also warned against the use of ear candles as they can possibly cause injuries such as puncturing the eardrum, burning the face and ears and clogging the ear canal.

Consult a professional if you need to get your ears cleaned.

What are the causes of earwax buildup?

It’s natural for your ears to produce earwax. However, earwax may start to build up faster than usual in the following situations:

  • Using your finger, a cotton swab, paper clip or other objects to dig your ears
  • Using earphones frequently
  • Wearing hearing aids
  • Ageing of the skin
  • Stenosis (narrowing of the ear canal)

What are the symptoms of earwax blockage?

The symptoms of earwax blockage include

  • Pain or aches in the ear
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • Itchy ears
  • Foul smelling ears
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Partial hearing loss
  • Full or plugged feeling in the ear

Typically, earwax blockage will go away on its own after some time. However, if you feel like your ears are still blocked, seek a professional.

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