Candles in the ears: Help or hazard?
July 16, 1999
From CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
Web posted at: 3:03 p.m. EDT (1903 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- An old method of treating upper respiratory problems is making a comeback. But some doctors warn it may be dangerous.
The treatment involves burning candles in your ears, a practice called "ear candling."
"Ear candling is a very ancient method of alleviating upper respiratory and sinus problems," said Laura Gomez, an ear candling practitioner.
Practitioners say ear candling can also help eliminate migraine headaches and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
Candles create controversy
Ear candling is supposed to work by removing earwax, bacteria and fungus by creating a vacuum in the ear canal.
"If it's properly sealed ... the earwax is gently pulled up the tube," said Gomez.
Many doctors say more research is needed. The Food and Drug Administration says the practice is not safe and considers the ear candle an unregulated medical device.
"We're more concerned that the consumer be aware of what they're buying and that they be alerted to the fact that we believe these to be a significant health risk and that we're concerned if they continue to purchase them," said the FDA's Dr. Steven Niedelman.
The agency has taken steps to prevent the sale and distribution of ear candles in the United States.
Candles linked to infections, punctured eardrums
Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Alan Langman of Allegheny University became interested after seeing several patients with injuries from ear candling.
"The particular injuries I have seen is infection of the external ear canal following use of these candles as well as a burn of the ear canal," Langman said. He also said he has seen patients with holes in their eardrums after use of the candles.
Langman decided to check out ear candling. He did a study to determine if an ear candle can actually create a vacuum as practitioners claim.
"Our discovery was that there was no vacuum, or negative pressure, generated by a burning ear candle," said Langman.
He also researched whether an ear candle actually can draw out material from inside the ear.
"What we found was that no wax was removed from their ear canal, and in fact some of the wax was pushed in deeper because of the placement of the ear candle," Langman said.
Fans swear it works
Flight attendant Sam Tanner swears by the treatment for helping end her chronic earaches.
"It's about once a month I come in and have this done," Tanner said. "It makes you feel a whole lot better. I mean my ears feel clear, you can hear, you don't feel like you've got something in the ear."
Even practitioners urge caution. "You need to make sure that you have an alternative practitioner or someone who uses only the highest grade candles to do this procedure," Gomez said
But Langman has another suggestion. "My recommendation is that ear candles may be a nice thing to have on the dining room table while you're having dinner. They should not be placed in the ear and definitely should not be used to try to cleanse the ear at all."
Americans seem increasingly willing to try holistic therapies like ear candling. According to a major medical journal, an estimated 83 million adult Americans used alternative remedies in 1997 including herbal and other ancient healing treatments.
CNN Producer Karen Klaus contributed to this story.
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