Ear candles: do they work?

Last update on Jun, 21, 2021

Ear cleaning candles, also called cones, are sometimes used to remove earwax plugs. Ear cleaning cones arise from the rediscovery of a traditional method of ancient origin for ear hygiene and allow you to remove impurities and excess wax present in the ear canal using the so-called chimney effect. Today, however, their use appears to be of dubious effectiveness. Let's analyze why.

Do ear candles work?

Earwax is a yellowish substance with a protective function present in the external auditory canal. Under normal physiological conditions, it is pushed outwards both by the epithelial cells of the ear canal and by the shape of the canal which, tilted downwards towards the outside, favors the spontaneous elimination of ear wax. In certain cases, such as a small external auditory canal, excess production, altered composition or "forced" attempts at mechanical cleaning (use of cotton buds), ear wax can build up forming the classic "plug" which causes an obstruction of the ear canal with consequent hearing loss and the sensation of a blocked ear.

Various methods can be carried out to eliminate earwax, including the use of special oilcloth cones which, placed directly at the entrance to the external auditory canal, remove the earwax through a sort of suction, after they have been lit as is done with a candle. The wax cones, about 20 cm long, have two open ends:

The narrower end, equipped with a disc that serves to protect the skin from dripping hot wax, should be placed directly at the entrance to the ear canal, taking care to tilt the head from the side opposite the ear where the cone is inserted. The wider end is to be lit like a candle. The heat released by the combustion of the waxed cone softens the earwax, at the same time creating a depression inside the ear: in doing so, the earwax is sucked outwards.

However, the use of wax cones for ear cleaning is not very reliable: the "cleaning" mechanism of candles is not clear. The most important risk deriving from this treatment is that the wax residues are deposited directly in the external auditory canal or even on the tympanic membrane. The risk of burning the skin around the ear or burning the hair should also not be underestimated.

According to experts, ear cleaning can be done simply and more effectively with lukewarm water or spray products that facilitate the elimination of wax particles and scales produced by the ear canal. The removal of earwax plugs, however, is a procedure of medical competence for which it is necessary to consult a hearing specialist.

Application: How to use ear candles

When using ear candles you should not be alone and always get a second person who can help and prevent injuries or accidents. Here are the instructions for using the ear candle properly: 

  1. You lie on your side and rest your head on the ear that is not to be treated.
  2. Insert the ear candle vertically into the ear with a twisting motion so that the ear canal is hermetically sealed.
  3. A damp towel can catch falling ashes around the ear.
  4. The ear candle is now lit. Warm air now enters the ear.
  5. The ear candle should burn down completely. Normally it then goes out by itself. 

Can ear wax be removed with ear candles?

Earwax removal with a candle is particularly used in spa. Through the tubular opening, the descending heat leads to a negative pressure in the ear. This is intended to pull the wax up through the filter and thereby clean the ears . In fact, the resulting negative pressure in the ear is so low that it is not enough for the wax to be drawn into the funnel. So the ear is not cleaned by an ear candle alone, but it can help to relax and prepare the ear for further cleaning.

Ear candling and tinnitus

The ear candling effect is also often used totreat tinnitus , as it works like a gentle ear drum massage due to the slight negative pressure and the vibration waves caused by the flames. The stimuli are transmitted to the middle ear up to the inner ear, with a direct effect on the auditory and equilibrium organs. The therapy leads to relaxation in the ear and thus reduces the symptoms of tinnitus.

Ear candling for colds, earache and ear pressure

An ear candle can also help with a cold or  ear pressure , as well as with mild ear pain. The ear candle acts on the zones of the lymphatic throat ring via the ear canal. This promotes blood circulation, lymph drainage and the immune system and thus helps against colds or ear pressure. Already during the treatment, the patient feels a pleasant warmth and a relieving pressure equalization in the ear, frontal and sinus area. The resulting negative pressure can also dissolve water in the ear . Caution is advised in the case of an acute ear infection, since in this case ear candle therapy should not be used. 

When you shouldn't use ear candles?

Ear candles should be avoided in the following health conditions:

In these cases, we advise you to go straight to an ear, nose and throat doctor and seek treatment.

Risks and possible consequential damage

ENT doctors warn that ear candles can endanger health and even be dangerous for the user despite being used according to the instructions. Possible risks include burns to the face, the auricle, the ear canal or the middle ear. In addition, the hot candle wax can clog the ears or even injure the eardrum. In addition, using the ear candle increases the risk of fire.

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