Traditional treatment called ear candling gains popularity despite warnings

(Jahi Chikwendiu/the Washington Post)
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Brenda Thompson gets a treatment called ear candling from Schyla Poyndexter-Moore at the Secrets of Nature restaurant and health-food store in the District.

A hollow candle, or a piece of fabric soaked in beeswax or paraffin, is placed in the ear canal with a paper plate resting on the head to prevent burns from the wax. Then, the candle or fabric is lit. According to its supporters, the practice is a remedy for removing earwax and cures ailments such as ear infections, sinusitis, migraines, postnasal drip and cancer, and improves general health.

The origin of this technique is unknown, but some say it can be traced to the era before Christ, to ancient Egypt and/or India. Within the past decade, its popularity has increased. Beauty salons and spas offer candling, also known as ear coning and thermal auricular therapy, and kits are available at health-food stores and flea markets.

Medical research, however, holds that the practice is both ineffective and dangerous. It showed up in February on the Food and Drug Administration's equivalent of the FBI's most-wanted list.

The FDA has received reports of burns, perforated eardrums and ear-canal blockages that required outpatient surgery from the use of ear candles. Particular concern has been voiced over the practice of coning on children. Because kids tend to move around more, the likelihood of their being burned is higher, and their smaller ear canals may make them more susceptible to injury.

What's more, earwax, which candling is supposed to remove, is a good thing, according to data. Wax traps dirt, debris and dust and contains antimicrobial agents to stave off infection.

-- Charity Brown

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