Ear candling made simple
When Sylvania Milne’s son, Lucas, was only four months old, he began to show signs of deafness. On the journey that followed, Lucas and his family encountered conflicting theories about his deafness and, in the end, a surprising solution.
“I used to bang things around him and he wouldn’t flinch,” Milne recalls. “We took Lucas for a hearing test and the audiologist diagnosed him with low-level hearing loss. The news made me feel panicky. A second test conducted at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne found Lucas had compacted fluid in the ears. It was described as a hearing reduction rather than a hearing loss. The best way to understand what Lucas was experiencing would be to cup your ears with your hands — all he could hear was a muffled noise.
“The doctors said there was little they could do, particularly as he was so young. At eight-and-a-half months, he was retested with the same result, and again at one year. He was always holding his ears and he used to fall over all the time,” says Milne.
“Lucas was one-and-a-half when a friend suggested ear candling. At first I thought, I don’t know about this; sticking something in a child’s ears. We were always told never to stick anything in your ears or up your nose, weren’t we? However, the results were nothing short of miraculous. After a couple of ear candling treatments, the fluid came out and his speech became clearer. He stopped falling over and bumping into things and he stopped tugging his ears. I’ve seen such an improvement in my little boy.”
Ancient wisdom, modern medicine
Ear candles are not new, but their use — for everything from an earache to a headache, sore throat and sinus problems — has never been more popular. Several ancient cultures experimented with ear candling for medicinal purposes, including the Egyptians, Indians and Mayans. In Malta and Italy they used rolled-up brown paper dipped in oil or simply blew smoke directly into the ear. However, it was the Hopi (meaning “people of peace”) of North America who really perfected the design of the ear candle as we know it today.
Typically, an ear candle can be described as a hollow tube made from cotton flax stiffened by honey and pure beeswax. Many also include essential oils, Bach Flower Remedies and herbs such as goldenseal, St John’s wort, chamomile and sage. Others have a filter to safeguard against any wax or candle residue entering the ear.
Melbourne natural therapist Patricia Stiles is a maker of ear candles who is currently writing a book on the subject. She explains how ear candles work: “The candle is placed in the ear and the flame acts like a vortex with a gentle drawing action to help vaporise and remove the waxes and fluid within the outer ear canal and beyond. It’s designed to work exactly like a chimney — it draws upwards. It’s a one-way process. There is nothing blowing down into the ear.” The localised heat stimulates lymphatic circulation and it’s believed it may even help clean and restore healthy nerve endings.
Ear candling can be practised safely at home and is also performed by experienced natural health practitioners. Donna Fowler, a naturopath based in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, has successfully incorporated ear candling into her practice: “I start by lying the client on a massage table. I always look in the ear first just to make sure the eardrum is not perforated and there isn’t a really active infection that would first need a doctor’s attention. Then I place the lit candle at the opening of the ear while the client relaxes. Each ear takes around 10 minutes. While the candle is burning I massage around the pressure points of the sinuses and ears to promote lymphatic drainage and circulation to the area.”
Treating specific conditions
An ear candling treatment is non-invasive and calming. It can be so relaxing that it’s not uncommon for a person to fall asleep during the experience. “You feel a gentle warmth and the sensation of hearing the flame at the other end, which is a bit like holding a shell to your ear,” says Stiles. Indeed, many people use ear candles simply for the sense of wellbeing it imparts.
Others turn to ear candling as a treatment for specific conditions. As Stiles notes, “I find that people usually come for ear candling when they have been suffering with their sinuses for a length of time with things like nasal drip, sinus infections, earaches, glue ear, swimmer’s ear, or when they continually develop a lot of wax in the ear. They may be suffering temporary deafness in one ear, or sometimes they have tinnitus (ringing in the ear). Ear candling is very good for clearing the Eustachian tubes, which run between the ears and the lower sinuses on either side of the nose, as these tubes often get very blocked.”
Six years ago, 31-year-old Billy Hanna, owner of a Melbourne manufacturing business, discovered firsthand how incredibly effective ear candling could be. “I had polyps in the nose, which meant that one side of my nose was always blocked,” he recalls. “I was forever having to blow my nose and it made it very difficult to sleep. It was extremely uncomfortable and annoying. I would go to a specialist to get my nose drained on a regular basis. They would push huge needles into the bone of my nose to remove the fluid, which was very painful. It got to the point where they were planning to operate, but I didn’t like the idea of having the operation because I knew it wasn’t highly successful.
“It was at this stage that my wife suggested ear candling. I thought I might as well give it a shot. It was incredible. I had three treatments and the problem cleared up completely. I’ve never had to have anything else done since then. I go back every year or two to have another treatment but I’ve had no problem with the condition since then.”
Ear candles have now been used by German GPs and in several European hospitals for the treatment of ear, nose and throat complaints and as an alternative to antibiotics and ear syringing. While a certain amount of earwax is necessary to protect the ear from infection, the buildup of excess wax and fluid can cause problems. “You find that with people who have ear conditions, it’s often a recurring problem because of the mechanics of the ear,” says Fowler. “Their ears simply don’t drain properly. Children typically have lots of recurring infections because their ears aren’t properly developed yet.”
We often unknowingly aggravate the situation. Cotton buds can have a compacting effect on earwax and cause it to be pushed deeper into the ear canal. The residue from shampoo and soap can harden earwax. This can eventually result in a blockage, earache or hearing difficulty. Ear candling is very effective in clearing such blockages and, in many ways, is preferable to the uncomfortable experience of getting your ears syringed. It’s often used in conjunction with other alternative treatments for the relief of cold and flu symptoms as well as infections such as tonsillitis, as it can reduce inflammation in the throat.
Administering treatment at home
For such conditions, ear candles are considered quite safe for home use, particularly if you buy the small, slim candles with an inbuilt filter that prevents ash from entering the ear canal. (Ear candles are available at pharmacies and most major health stores.) Make sure you follow the instructions. You’ll need somebody to be in charge of holding and extinguishing the candle. It’s virtually impossible to self-administer the treatment.
The treatment should be conducted in a calm environment with the receiver positioned comfortably on their side. The candle should be lightly placed in the entrance of the auditory canal and held vertically while it is lit (be careful not to set the receiver’s hair alight). When the candle has burnt down to the red marker towards its base (this takes approximately 10 minutes), it should be removed and extinguished in a glass of water.
Larger, cone-shaped, unfiltered candles (called fire-burn tubes) are a little trickier and are best handled by a health practitioner. These require a cut-and-tap method whereby the ash is regularly tapped over a plate and then the candle repositioned back in the ear while it is still alight.
“There is very little chance of any damage being done in any way, shape or form, providing people know what they are doing,” says Stiles. For optimum benefit, you generally need more than one treatment. Fowler suggests that for chronic conditions such as sinus problems and hay fever, it’s good to have two to three treatments spaced two or three days apart to get the maximum effect. There are also people without serious or chronic conditions who use ear candles once a month simply as a preventative and revitalising aid to achieving a greater sense of health and wellbeing.