Stick what in your ear?
Although they are heavily promoted, ear candles don't work and can be hazardous, the FDA and others warn.
Does sticking a burning candle in your ear sound like a good way to remove ear wax or cleanse your blood of impurities?
Many consumers are apparently trying this procedure -- often called "ear candling." But federal health officials warn consumers not to use these products, saying they can cause burns and other serious injuries.
The Food and Drug Administration also said consumers shouldn't be swayed by claims that ear candling can improve hearing, relieve headaches and sinus and ear infections, purify blood, cure cancer, or improve brain functions.
"FDA has found no valid scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices for any medical claims or benefits," the agency said in a statement.
Ear candles are hollow cones about 10 inches long made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or a mixture of the two. Companies that make these products claim that burning a candle in the ear creates a vacuum that draws wax and other debris from the ear canal.
But the FDA said consumers who have used ear candles have suffered burns and perforated eardrums that required outpatient surgery. These injuries happened even when consumers used the ear candles according to the manufacturer's directions, the FDA said.
Not for children
"FDA is especially concerned because some ear candles are being advertised for use in children," the agency said. "Children of any age, including babies, are likely at increased risk for injuries and complications if they are exposed to ear candles. Small children and infants may move during the use of the device, increasing the likelihood of wax burns and ear candle wax plugging up the ear canal. Also, their smaller ear canal size may make children more susceptible than adults to injuries."
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery also warns about the risks associated with ear candling -- even for something as simple as removing wax from the ear canal. "Ear candles are not a safe option of wax removal as they may result in serious injury," the AAO-HNS states on its Web site.
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A nonprofit organization that exposes health-related myths has also investigated ear candling. A report on the Web site Quackwatch cited many injuries associated with the practice, including external burns, ear canal obstructions, and perforated eardrums.
The report by Dr. Lisa Roazen, who practices emergency medicine in New York City, also referred to a story in a Canadian newspaper, The London Free Press, regarding a woman who experienced stuffiness in her nose and ear pains while scuba diving.
The woman went to a local health food store and was referred to an ear candler. During the procedure, the woman felt intense burning in her ear. She later went to the emergency room, where doctors were unable to remove the wax that had dripped from the candle into her eardrum. The woman had to undergo surgery, the story said.
Roazen's Quackwatch report also cited two fires in Alaska linked to ear candling.
A recent report by the AAO-HNS Foundation echoed concerns, saying studies have found that ear candling has caused burns, temporary hearing loss, and other serious injuries.
"These studies have shown that although ear candling is heavily promoted, the mechanism of action is implausible," the report said. "Furthermore, it has no observable positive effects and ear candling use may be associated with considerable risks."
The FDA advises consumers and physicians to report any injuries linked with ear candles to the agency. Those reports can be filed online or by phone at (800) 332-1088.
Related reading at ConsumerAffairs.com:
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