When people say the human body is capable of doing amazing things, they are not wrong. Every function the body spends time on serves a purpose; it’s an incredible machine designed to do so much more than we notice, like making earwax for example. The general opinion of earwax, or cerumen, is that it’s gross and dirty, but it’s much more than that! Earwax is made by the body to protect the ears with its lubricating and antibacterial properties. And while most of the time earwax moves through the ear and out of the body through normal jaw movements like chewing, it can sometimes accumulate, leading to different issues, one of them being tinnitus.
There are a variety of different ways to address excessive earwax and tinnitus. Some people recommend ear candling, a process of using heat to remove earwax from the ears. Read on to learn more about tinnitus, ear candling, and whether or not there is scientific evidence to support its use.
Tinnitus is most commonly known as a condition that causes you to hear a sound that has no external source. The type of sound varies depending on the person, but it is usually a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or humming sound. Some people experience tinnitus constantly and have great discomfort, while others only notice it a few times a year – it varies greatly, from person to person. There are many causes for tinnitus, like:
- Sudden exposure to a loud sound
- Age-related hearing loss
- Head injury
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Ototoxic drugs that have been known to damage the eardrum
- Earwax blocking the canal
An impaction, also known as earwax blocking the canal, is usually a sign that something may be amiss. Since ears are designed to clean themselves, an impaction usually means someone has stuck something inside their ears causing the earwax to be pushed into the canal, leading to a blockage. If an ear impaction is left untreated, it could lead to more serious conditions, like hearing loss, irritation, or tinnitus. There are many different options for both earwax buildup and tinnitus, many of which are recommended by medical professionals, and others that are not, like ear candling.
What are ear candles and what do they claim to do?
Ear candling is a holistic therapy usually performed by beauticians, alternative therapists, or patients at home using ear candling kits. Ear candling is said to remove earwax buildup, helping alleviate sinus pressure, cure ear infections, and relieve tinnitus. It works by placing a hollow candle (made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax) into the outermost auditory canal. Once the candle is lit and burned for about 15 minutes, a brown waxy substance is collected, believed to be earwax, debris, and bacteria.
Supporters of ear candling believe it works in two different ways. The first is that the burning candle creates a vacuum, which helps draw the earwax out. The second is that the heat of the burning candle causes the earwax to soften and come out of the ear over the course of a few days. However, there is no clinical evidence to support either way.
One study performed to test the first theory measured the pressure in the ear canal using a tympanometer and found no negative pressure was created during ear candling. Another experiment done to test the second theory found that the highest temperature reached was below core body temperature, not enough to melt ear wax. A small clinical trial was also performed to see whether ear candling helps remove earwax from the years and results showed no ear wax was removed after ear candling, instead, candle wax was deposited into the ears.
Can ear candling make tinnitus worse?
Though there isn’t any data suggesting ear candling will objectively make your tinnitus worse, it certainly does not help. And if you have tinnitus due to an impaction, getting candle wax into your ears will only make it worse. At-home treatments like ear candling kits or water picks can cause serious damage to your ears, specifically the eardrum and inner ear. You should avoid those treatments and not try removing impactions on your own.
One woman who had ear candling performed on her had ear wax spilled into her ear accidentally. At the doctor, they found and removed a large mass of solidified candle wax from inside her ear that should not have been there. The heat of the spilled wax made small perforations in her right tympanic membrane, which led to conductive hearing loss. A month after the appointment the perforations were still there and the patient’s hearing had not improved. Clearly, there are more risks than benefits associated with ear candling, especially considering there seem to be no benefits at all.
The Dangers Behind Ear Candles
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to both consumers and healthcare providers that ear candles can cause serious damage to the ears and that they should not be used. The FDA has also stated there is no valid scientific evidence supporting the use or effectiveness of ear candling. What the FDA has received, instead, are reports of negative effects from patients using ear candling, like burns, perforated eardrums, and ear canal blockages that require surgery.
Serious injuries can be caused by ear candling such as:
- Burns to the face, outer ear, eardrum, and inner ear
- Candle wax falling into the ear and causing a plug or inner ear damage
- Damage to the eardrum
- Hearing loss
The FDA has also stated that ear candling can be especially dangerous for small children and babies and that they are at increased risk. If you believe you have an impaction of built up earwax, do not try ear candling, see an audiologist or Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor instead.
Tinnitus: Where to get help
If you are experiencing tinnitus, do not worry, there is help out there! Make an appointment with a hearing care specialist, like an audiologist, to determine whether it actually is tinnitus or something else. The doctor will also help you discover what the cause of tinnitus is. Since tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, discovering the underlying issue is key, that’s how you can go about finding specific treatments that work best for you.
When seeing a doctor, be as specific as possible in describing your tinnitus as that will help determine what is going on. The kind of sound you hear can go a long way in helping figure out why you’re experiencing tinnitus. The next time you experience tinnitus, be curious about it. Is the sound more like a clicking, pulsing or rushing, low-pitched or high-pitched? All of these differences will serve as useful clues to help you and the doctor get to the bottom of what the cause is. Remember, getting professional help is the best way to address tinnitus without causing further harm to yourself.
Yes, tinnitus is annoying and uncomfortable, and earwax impactions are too, but that’s no reason to attempt potentially dangerous remedies that have no scientific support. Ear candling is not the answer. When experiencing a health problem, the last thing you want to do is accidentally make it worse! So if you believe you have an earwax impaction, you’re experiencing tinnitus, or both, the best thing to do is to see a doctor. Say goodbye to pseudoscience and hello to actual treatment.