Ear candling – or thermo-auricular therapy as it is also known - refers to an ancient, non-invasive complementary therapy designed to help treat conditions associated with the ear, nose and throat.
It is a technique that involves placing a hollow, cone-shaped tube (or ‘candle’) made of cotton, soaked in beeswax, honey and herbs into the ear canal in order to stimulate the ear and facilitate the removal of excess wax and impurities.
Ear candle treatment varies according to the shape and size of the candles, as well as the ingredients impregnated into the lining, but all are considered to have the same benefits – particularly for conditions such as sinus problems, compacted ear wax, tinnitus and headaches. Ear candling can also be used to promote deep relaxation and is thought to have therapeutic benefits which can help to relieve stress and revitalise the body.
Although it has been used for thousands of years around the world, ear candling has only recently been introduced by the NHS for use alongside conventional medical treatments such as grommets, antibiotics and ear syringing.
This page will explore exactly how ear candle treatment works and how it can benefit your health and well-being. It will also provide information on what to expect in an ear candling session, and how to find a qualified practitioner near you.
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How do ear candles work?
Ear candle treatment begins with long, hollow ‘candles’ which are manufactured using organic cotton and a selection of natural ingredients such as honey extracts, crushed herbs, and beeswax which are impregnated into the lining.
The candle is gently placed about a quarter-inch into ear and lit, allowing the flame to pass down the candle’s hollow centre deeper into the ear canal. The warm air eventually comes into contact with colder air and a vacuum effect is created - drawing out any wax, candida, yeast and other debris that may be lodged in the ear canal. The movement and compression between the ear canal and the candle chamber generate air flow that functions like a chimney. This ‘chimney effect’ is what stimulates the sucking action.
The removal of excess wax and impurities helps to clear the inner ear and sinuses, regulates ear pressure and brings about a lighter sensation in the head and ears. Ear candling is also thought to induce deep relaxation, which is enhanced via the infusion of herbs and essential oils into the candle itself. This turns to vapour when the candle is lit which is then drawn into the ear canal where it creates a soothing, massaging effect that protects and softens any irritated areas in the ear.
Ear candle treatment has been handed down by many ancient civilisations, but it is thought that the Ancient Greeks were among the first to use the technique. They referred to it as ‘coning’ and used it specifically for cleansing, healing and purifying on a spiritual basis.
The Greeks used pottery clay to make coned shaped instruments, and carved a double helix inside to create a downward spiral energy flow for smoke and heated air once the candle was lit. This carried burning herbs down into the ear canal, helping to cleanse and draw out debris and impurities.
Gradually more and more ancient cultures picked up on the practice, including the Chinese, Egyptians, Mayan and Inca tribes. The modern incarnation of ear candling however is primarily based on the technique envisaged by the Native American Indian tribe, the Hopis (meaning ‘peaceful people’).
The Hopis – who were known for their medicinal knowledge – used ear candling in rituals and healing ceremonies, and developed a specific candle formula to enhance the treatment’s holistic and therapeutic benefits. The main ingredients they used in their candles included cotton, beeswax, honey, sage, chamomile and St John’s Wort - a formula still used in modern ear candle treatments today.
What are the types of ear candle?
There are several different types of ear candles used in treatment today - each varying in size, shape and content.
See below for the most popular types of ear candles:
The Hopi ear candle – These are made of the traditional Hopi formula, are cylindrical in shape and around 22cm long. Burning time is about 10-12 minutes, and safety features include a filter - which prevents particles from dropping into the ear - and a maximum burn line showing when the candle should be put out.
Ear cones – Unlike the traditional Hopi candles, these are wider at the top and much shorter in design. They are made from cotton, beeswax and propolis (aromatic substance collected by bees) and will burn for around 5-7 minutes. Safety features consist of a flame-breaking ring and a valve, which prevents particles from dropping into the ear.
Basic ear candles – Also referred to as ‘natural ear candles’, these are made only from cotton flax or hemp and beeswax. Sizes and shapes vary and specialised safety features are rarely included.
What are ear candles used for?
Ear candling is primarily used to treat irritations and pressure in the ear, helping to relieve the discomfort of conditions such as the build-up of earwax, sinus congestion, sore throats, glue ear, rhinitis and tinnitus. It provides a pleasant and safe alternative for people who find traditional medical treatments such as syringing uncomfortable and/or ineffective, and is ideal for people of all ages – including young children and elderly people.
Because there are so many intricate crevices in the inner ear, it is easy for debris and impurities to build-up and cause problems that can interfere with hearing and cause discomfort. Regular removal of yeasts, allergies or compacted wax through ear candle treatment can help to restore hearing, relieve tension and pressure in the ear, while cleansing the sinus cavities of bacteria that thrive in the dark moist conditions of the inner ear.
What happens during a session?
When carried out professionally, an ear candling session can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience for the client. At the start of the session you will have a full consultation, in which your therapist will discuss your medical history and current symptoms to help assess if ear candling is the right treatment for you and what your expectations are.
You will then be placed in a comfortable position on your side on a massage couch before the therapist gently places a specialised candle into your ear. This will be lit and held firmly in place while it burns for an average of 10 minutes.
You are likely to experience a crackling sound as the candle burns, and feel a warm and gentle massaging sensation in the ear. When the candle has burned completely, it will be removed from your ear and extinguished. This process is then repeated for the other ear.
Once both ears have been treated, your therapist will massage the area around the ears and face to encourage lymphatic drainage and enhance the effects of the candling. You can also request to see the inside of the burnt out candle to reveal the condition of your ears. A lot of people report an immediate relief of pressure after the treatment
A session will usually cost around £20 - £30 and will last for approximately an hour. Some people may experience relief straight after the first session but more may be needed depending on your age, the nature of your ailment and how long you have had it for. Generally, the older you are and the longer you have had the condition, the more ear candle treatment sessions you will need to see a noticeable improvement. There is also the question of how complex the condition is, as some are easier to treat than others.
Ear candling benefits
Ear candling is a holistic treatment - therefore it is not designed to be a specific cure for any particular ailment. However, there are considered to be a number of healing benefits and regular treatment is thought to stimulate and heal parts of the mind and body that extend beyond the immediate surrounding of the inner ear.
Regular ear candling treatments are thought to provide beneficial relief from the following conditions:
anxiety and stress
post flying and driving pressure
colds and flu
itching in the ears.
Other potential ear candling benefits can include:
Stimulation and detoxification of the lymphatic system.
A catalyst to clear nerve endings and promote healing.
Providing a boost to the immune system.
Improvement to mental functions, vision, hearing, taste and colour perception.
Bringing about a more balanced emotional state and clearer thinking.
In addition, ear candling is potentially more effective for relieving wax build up than the conventional ear syringing method used by medical professionals. Syringing involves shooting water into the ears, which can lodge wax particles further inside the ear canal causing more discomfort. If water stays lodged inside the ear for too long this can lead to infection. Ear candle treatment however is non-invasive and works by drawing out the wax rather than compacting it in further.
Is ear candling safe?
While it is considered a more comfortable and painless alternative to medical treatments such as ear surgery and syringing, ear candle treatment does carry risks. Having a lit candle inserted into the ear requires expert handling and supervision in order to avoid potential problems such as a punctured eardrum or burns to the face, hair, scalp, ear canal, eardrum and middle ear.
It is also advised that the treatment is not carried out too soon after any form of ear surgery and if a client has any of the following:
cysts in the ears
high blood pressure
on-going ear or sinus infections
allergies to any products in the candle
inflammation in the ears
grommets or tubes in the ears
acute otosclerosis (an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear)
mastoiditis (an infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear)
difficulty breathing around small amounts of smoke.
Generally, ear candling is a safe, simple and relaxing holistic remedy helpful in relieving a range of ailments - as long as the treatment is not used excessively or carried out incorrectly. This is why it is important to seek out a qualified practitioner who is able to carry out ear candle treatment professionally.
What qualifications do therapists need to have?
When searching for ear candling therapy near you, the qualifications of a therapist and the types of ear candles they use are crucial for ensuring the safest and most effective treatment.
There are currently no laws with regards to what training a therapist must have to practice ear candle treatment, however there are professional bodies that therapists can choose to register with.
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