Hot issue up to its ears in supporters, skeptics

While practioners tout ear candling, some in the medical profession say the procedure is unsafe.

Yelena Kibasova

In the back room of Magus Books and Herbs in Dinkytown, Mela Amara, a massage therapist, unwrapped a candle to reveal small chunks of orange earwax residue.

The procedure Amara offers is called ear candling, which she said cleanses the sinuses and the ear canal. The procedure is considered alternative medicine and tends to be controversial, she said.

Patients come in with problems such as ringing of the ears, poor hearing and sinus infections, Amara said.

At an ear candling appointment, a hollow “ear candle” is inserted into the ear and the candle is burned down halfway. The flame creates a vacuum effect that sucks out the residue within the ear.

“It’s a way of helping remove the toxicity from the body,” said Connie Stoner, a holistic practitioner from Stillwater who performs ear candling and manufactures the candles.

Stoner has a personal reason for her faith in the ability of ear candles. Steve Johnson, Stoner’s husband, used them to recuperate from an accident.

Johnson was in an explosion where he lost most hearing in one ear. His ear was filled with blood, and ear candling sessions helped him recover, Stoner said.

“He had originally 80 percent hearing loss in that ear and it went down to 20 percent,” she said.

Ear candling is performed on anyone, from infants to the elderly.

“Ear infections and hearing issues can happen at just about any age,” said Liz Johnson, an herbalist at Magus Books and Herbs.

Places such as Magus Books and Herbs sell ear candles and anyone can perform the process.

“It isn’t a licensed service… That’s the scary part,” Stoner said. “I do teach classes, but there’s not a certification.”

While some people swear by ear candling, most physicians oppose it, said Samuel Levine, associate professor of otolaryngology at the University’s Medical School.

Rick Odland, assistant professor of otolaryngology and a public relations representative for the Minnesota Academy of Otolaryngology, said, “It’s not something we recommend because of the possibility of injury from the hot wax getting in the ear.”

Levine said some ear candles are imported illegally.

“Importers have been fined for this because it is considered a device of unproven medical advantage,” he said.

Odland said earwax is healthy and does not need to be removed.

“For people who have problems with wax buildup, what we usually recommend is just a drop of mineral oil or olive oil once a month or so,” Odland said.

Otolaryngologists recommend not sticking anything in the ear.

“You shouldn’t put things down into your ear canal and you shouldn’t instrument your ear,” Levine said.

Odland also recommended not using cotton swabs.

“The earwax is usually formed near the outer part of the ear canal and Q-tips just tend to push it in up against the eardrum,” he said. “That’s where it causes real tenderness and real hearing loss.”

Levine said ear candling should be illegal.

“It’s one of those things that we should put to rest once and for all,” he said.

But ear candling continues as a form of alternative medicine.

“It beats antibiotics,” Stoner said. “It depends on people’s belief systems and how people choose to take care of themselves.”