Beeswax candles offered for sale by Amazon.com
Does sticking a burning candle in your ear sound like a good way to remove ear wax or cleanse your blood of impurities?
Many consumers are apparently trying this procedure -- often called "ear candling" -- because of claims that it can do everything from remove toxins in the ear canal to cure cancer. But federal health officials warn consumers not to use these products, saying they can cause burns and other serious injuries.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said consumers shouldn't be swayed by claims that ear candling can improve hearing, relieve headaches, sinus and ear infections, purify blood, cure cancer, or improve brain functions.
"FDA has found no valid scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices for any medical claims or benefits," the agency said in a statement released on Saturday.
Ear candles are hollow cones about ten inches long made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or a mixture of the two. Companies that make these products claim that burning a candle in the ear creates a vacuum that draws wax and other debris from the ear canal.
But the FDA said consumers who have used ear candles have suffered burns and perforated eardrums that required outpatient surgery. These injuries happened even when consumers used the ear candles according to the manufacturer's direction, the FDA said.
Not for children
"FDA is especially concerned because some ear candles are being advertised for use in children," the agency said. "Children of any age, including babies, are likely at increased risk for injuries and complications if they are exposed to ear candles. Small children and infants may move during the use of the device, increasing the likelihood of wax burns and ear candle wax plugging up the ear canal. "Also, their smaller ear canal size may make children more susceptible than adults to injuries."
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) also warns consumers about the risks associated with ear candling -- even for something as simple as removing wax from the ear canal. The organization represents specialists who treat the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck.
"Ear candles are not a safe option of wax removal as they may result in serious injury," the AAO-HNS states on its Web Site. "Since users are instructed to insert the 10" to 15"-long, cone-shaped, hollow candles, typically made of wax-impregnated cloth, into the ear canal and light the exposed end, some of the most common injuries are burns, obstruction of the ear canal with wax of the candle, or perforation of the membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear."
An international non-profit organization that exposes health-related frauds myths, and fallacies, has also investigated ear candling.
A report on the Web site Quackwatch, titled "Why Ear Candling Is Not a Good Idea," cited many injuries associated with the practice, including external burns, ear canal obstructions, and perforated eardrums.
The report by Dr. Lisa Roazen, who practices emergency medicine in New York City, also referred to a story in the Canadian newspaper, The London Free Press , regarding a woman who experienced stuffiness in her nose and ear pains while scuba diving.
The woman went to a local health-food store and was referred to a "qualified" ear candler. During the procedure, the woman felt intense burning in her ear. She later went to the emergency room, where doctors were unable to remove the wax that had dripped from the candle into her eardrum. The woman had to undergo surgery, the story stated.
During the operation, surgeons discovered a hole in the woman's eardrum. They suspected the ear candling caused that injury. The woman later recovered and did not lose her hearing. According to the story, the ear-candling practitioner apologized to the woman and stopped performing the procedure.
Dr. Roazen's Quackwatch report also cited two fires in Alaska linked to ear candling, including one that led to a woman's death.
"On January 27, 2005 a 59-year-old woman ignited her bedding when she dropped an ear candle that she was attempting to use in the ear without any assistance," the report stated. "The candle ignited the bedding and quickly spread to curtains and other combustibles in the room. The woman did escape but suffered an asthma attack and died in a hospital emergency room."
Ear candles are sold and promoted in health food stores, flea markets, health spas and salons, and on commercial Web sites, including Amazon.com and other well-established, seemingly reputable sites.
ConsumerAffairs.com did a quick online search and found scores of companies selling ear candles. One company advertised a pack of "Earomatherapy" ear candles for $2.77; another sold a 12-pack of Beeswax ear candles for $28.85.
We also found a company selling ear candles that pointed out the procedure is not recommended for children under the age of 12. The company, however, didn't base that warning on the safety of ear candling itself. It based that warning on the fidgetiness of children.
"Children under 12 may not remain still while the procedure is being performed," the company states. "The procedure involves fire, therefore, extreme caution should be taken should you choose to ear candle a small child. Ear candling is not harmful to children, but fire is," the company added.
Another company selling ear candles attempted to refute doctors and others in the scientific community who criticize the safety and effectiveness of ear candling.
"In our modern day, we are governed by the 'scientific method,'" the company states on its Web site. "Anything that can't be studied by this method is considered a 'scam,' and great efforts are made to discredit it. Of course, the 'scientific method' can't explain why the bumble bee can fly!"
The company's Web site adds: "Generally speaking, natural remedies like EAR CANDLING, are inexpensive, so pharmaceuticals and Doctors won't make a fortune from prescribing ear candles, etc. It's easier for Doctors to call ear candles a scam, than lose patients to alternative remedies. Ear Candling Works!"
Dr. Roazen and others medical experts disagree. "Candling is both ineffective and dangerous," Roazen wrote in her Quackwatch report.
A recent report by the AAO-HNS Foundation echoed those concerns, saying studies have found that ear candling has caused burns, temporary hearing loss, and other serious injuries.
"These studies have shown that although ear candling is heavily promoted, the mechanism of action is implausible," the report stated. "Furthermore, it has no observable positive effects and ear candling use may be associated with considerable risks."
The report added: "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that there is no validated scientific evidence to support the efficacy of the ear candles and warns against their use."
The FDA advises consumers and physicians to report any injuries linked with ear candles to the agency. Those reports can be filed online or by phone at 1-800-332-1088.