Midweek Cuckoo: Ear Candling
In short, ear candling is the process of placing a hollow tube of (usually) unbleached muslin that has been soaked in (usually) beeswax into your ear, and lighting the exposed end. This is meant to create a gentle vacuum which sucks the cerumin (that's doctor for 'earwax') out your ear. It's claimed to be useful in treating everything from excessive ear wax to auricular zona (herpes of the ear, basically) to vertigo. It also clears your brain, nerves, emotions, sinuses and lymph nodes, because in the altmed version of human physiology the ear is just an open hole to the rest of your head, everything is connected by tubes, and any way all this stuff will osmose through your eardrum.
In the United States, the sale of ear candles marked as a treatment of any kind is banned. Locally, i don't believe we have any such ruling - you can buy ear candles online and ear candling is offered at several spas around the country (see for example Ingwenya African Retreat). All make claims of effective treatment.
So what's the scoop on ear candling anyway? Does it work? So far the unanimous decision among those who've bothered to actually test it is an emphatic no. After a session of ear candling, the practitioner will often slice open the candle and proudly display a lot of earwax-looking gunk to the patient. This, they claim, is earwax mixed with dead skin cells and other impurities, magically sucked out of your ear. Actual sampling and analysis of the gunk shows it to be exactly what any thinking person would expect - beeswax and ash. As for the 'vacuum' produced, measurement has shown that the ear candles produce no vacuum at all. In fact, according to Lisa Dryer, M.D.:
...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.Sounds like fun, and indeed a number of people have discovered that the only measurable outcome of ear candling is infection, burns, and ruptured eardrums. This is why the FDA bans this kind of thing, people.
At least one site is putting this theory to the only use it deserves: they market the Butt Candle™, the gentler alternative to laxatives, enemas and anti-flatulence pills. Read the procedure for use if you need a good laugh.
(For more info on ear candling, see the Straight Dope, JREF and Skepdic entries.)