Fire in the Hole! More About Ear Candling

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I briefly reported last month that a woman had filed a lawsuit alleging she was injured by hot candle wax that got into her ear, although it turned out it got there because she paid somebody to stick a lit hollow candle in her ear. One reader (known by me to be an intelligent person) wrote to offer a semi-defense of "ear-candling" (also called "ear-coning"), saying he had actually performed this procedure on his wife and although he admitted he found it somewhat "creepy," they believed it had worked.

I asked him how he thought it worked, and he responded:

1) I am not a doctor; 2) I am not a scientist; 3) I really don't know, but will tell you how I think it works:  You light the large end of the cone. I believe the cone dynamic (again, the actual physics are way beyond me) then results in heat transmitting down the cone, which has the effect of softening the wax. I believe the heat also creates some kind of pressure dynamic which draws the softened wax into the tip of the cone.

Here was my response to that:

I am not a doctor, but I am enough of a scientist to call you out on your novel "cone dynamic" theory. In theory, the flame could create the pressure dynamic you refer to by heating air, causing it to rise out of the hollow cone, and (if the ear seal was air-tight, which does not seem likely) creating an area of low pressure inside the cone that could cause air from inside the ear to be drawn into it. Rising hot air is one thing; but I don't see how it could bring melted ear wax along with it.

I am not trying to talk you out of ear-candling your wife, if that is something the two of you enjoy. I'm just saying I'm skeptical of the value of thermal-auricular therapy.

That's what some people apparently call it: "thermal-auricular [hot-ear] therapy," according to the Wikipedia article that, to his credit, the same person sent me, saying "[t]hen again, it could all be a fraud." (That kind of skepticism could have saved him a few bucks on ear candles, although my guess is the wife already had them and was determined to get candled one way or another.)

In fact, it seems that a number of studies have examined the ear-candle phenomenon and found no evidence that it works. Well, wax is sometimes found inside the candle after the procedure, these studies report. Can you guess what kind of wax is found inside the candle? Hint: it is a kind of wax that is commonly found inside candles. Hollow or not.

If you are determined to get candled, consider hiring a certified earconologist. Don't actually do it, just consider it.