Updated: Jul 30, 2018
Firstly, a little bit about ear wax...
What is ear wax?
Ear wax is a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum. The dead skin cells in the ear canal migrate outwards towards the entrance of the ear and mix with sebum that is secreted from modified sweat glands. Ear wax is thus formed and will continue to move out and fall away naturally once it reaches the entrance of the ear canal.
Why do we have it?
As well as helping the ear to get rid of dead skin cells, ear wax also protects the ear. It keeps the ears lubricated, it is naturally antimicrobial which helps prevent outer ear infections, and it helps prevent insects from entering the ears.
Why do our ears sometimes get blocked with wax?
A little bit of ear wax is healthy, but a large amount can reduce hearing and contribute to pain and infections if left untreated. Dry skin, narrow or hairy ears, use of hearing aids and headphones, cotton buds and genetics are all factors that contribute to excessive wax build up.
What is ear candling?
Ear candling is a holistic treatment that purports to remove ear wax from a blocked ear. Also sometimes referred to as Hopi candling or Thermal Auricular Therapy, the candle is actually not a candle. It’s a rolled up sheet of cotton or linen, impregnated with beeswax and sometimes other herbs and oils. One end is placed in the ear while you lie down, and the other end is set on fire. The candle takes about 10 minutes to burn down to a ‘safety line’.
How does it clear the wax?
The theory is that as hot air rises up the candle, it creates a negative pressure which draws the wax out of the ear canal. There are also claims that the heat helps to melt the ear wax.
How effective is it?
It isn’t. If the ‘negative pressure’ created by the lighting of the candle was powerful enough to suck the wax out of the ear at that distance, it would be strong enough to rupture the ear drum. There is no evidence base for the method, and it disregards not only what we know about the physiology of the ear but also the laws of physics. As for melting ear wax, some scientists measured the temperature of ear wax following the use of Hopi candles and found it to be unchanged.
The melted beeswax in the candle can cause serious burns on the skin, face, hair.
You are more likely to have melted candle wax deposited in your ear than have any ear wax removed.
There have been reports of perforated ear drums resulting from the procedure.
Because the procedure is known to be ineffective, it is almost always carried out by someone who is not a properly trained medical professional and who does not understand the anatomy or potential pathologies of the ear.
If the ear is not examined by a medical professional, it is possible that certain pathologies could be missed, resulting in more serious repercussions later.
The only scientific research available on ear candling is with regard to recording the number of burns and injuries as a result the ear candling procedure.
In America, the FDA (food and drugs administration) have advised against the use of Hopi candles and are cracking down on the manufacture of Hopi candles.
It is widely considered to be ineffective and dangerous, and is not recommended by medical professionals and ear care specialists.
What can I do if I am blocked?
See a medical professional, be it a GP, nurse, ENT doctor or audiologist so that they can confirm that wax is occluding and contributing to the blocked ear. Ear wax can then be removed using an evidence-based and medical-body approved method. Approved methods incude: olive oil use, irrigation, dry removal and microsuction.
As an audiologist and ear care specialist, my preference and recommendation is microsuction and I use this method with 95% of my patients. Microsuction does not require pre-softening so can be carried out immediately, and does not use water, minimising the chance of infection. It is safe to use on all ears, even those with a history of perforations and operations and it is considered to be the gold-standard of wax removal by ear, nose and throat professionals in the UK.
If you are suffering from a wax build up and are in the Longridge, Preston area, contact me for an appointment. Call 07456554557, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, if you have any queries or comments, feel free to ask them in the comment section or you're welcome to contact me directly.