Barron of Blog Wife, Kids, and the Pursuit of Happiness

10Jun/060

Earwax Candles a Fraud

Van Gogh, sans earOkay, so it's not exactly the most appetizing subject. But it's important to get the message out that these things are the latest in a long string of "snake oil" cures for whatever ails the common man. I have to admit that I was all about the concept at first:

Also called ear cones, they are long, hollow tubes made of wrapped muslin. Ear candles are used for ear wax removal. They are believed to help with ear infection and ear problems by removing the wax in which various bacteria and parasites live.

It's not that I have particularly gross ears; but given the choice I would prefer them to be clean. And we have some friends that tried out these candles and it seemed to work for them.

Here are the claims from the various "health and wellness" sites selling these items followed by the facts from this QuackWatch article:

  • "As the candle burns, the smoke travels into the ear canal, warming the ear wax and creating a gentle vacuum."
    Fact: Smoke does not travel into the ear canal and no vacuum is created. The candle may make your ear feel warm (fire has a tendency to do that), but unless your head is filled with air there is no way to suck said air out of your ear drum. Think about it - where is the supposed air you are sucking out coming from?
  • "This [gentle vacuum] can dislodge the wax or foreign debris and pull it into the ear cone, thus causing ear wax removal."
    Fact: Even if we assume a vacuum is created, wax is sticky and the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process.
  • "The rising hot air [...] pulls out toxins from the inner ear and the sinuses."
    Fact: The notion that the ear canal is connected to structures beyond the eardrum is false. A review of a good anatomy book should dispel this notion. The external ear canal, with an intact eardrum, is not connected to the brain, the sinuses targeted by the procedure (those above your eyes), or the Eustachian tubes (the passageways between the internal ear and the back of the throat).

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