Whether you’re pregnant or not, an accumulation of ear wax is an uncomfortable irritation.
Not surprisingly, removal of ear wax is one of the most common procedures carried out in the community.
Many people swear by ear candling – but how safe is it?
It’s tempting to try to get rid of that wax build up but here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t try ear candling while pregnant.
Earwax – what you need to know
Ear wax is actually pretty useful and one of nature’s wonderful safety nets.
Tests have shown ear wax doesn’t just lubricate your ear canal. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Ear wax is a substance secreted by tiny glands in the ear canal.
These secretions are moved outward along the ear canal by your jaw movement when you talk and chew.
Dead skin cells and dirt are picked up on the way, causing them to dry up and flake off naturally.
Too much or too little earwax?
Not enough earwax and you’re likely to experience itching and discomfort.
Too much earwax in the ear canal builds up, becomes impacted and causes a blockage.
A blocked ear can cause earache, infections or even a loss of hearing on the affected side.
This is usually the point where you might be tempted to use a bobby pin or cotton bud to scoop it out. Stop!
Trying to scoop out ear wax can push the wax further down the ear canal. This causes more blockage and damage to the eardrum.
A buildup of earwax against the eardrum often happens after failed removal attempts.
We know this because earwax forms in the outer third of the ear canal, so it gets pushed back towards the ear drum.
What is ear candling?
Ear candles are made of linen or unbleached cotton, which is soaked in wax, beeswax or paraffin and allowed to harden.
Some waxes contain herbs such as sage, chamomile and rosemary.
Each candle is around 25cm long and will burn for 15-25 minutes.
While lying on your side, the pointed end of the ear candle is placed in your ear while the other end is lit.
Ideally, there is a disc of cardboard surrounding the candle to prevent any candle wax from dripping into your ear or onto your face or head.
The origin and history of ear candling are unclear but there are links to ancient practices in China, Tibet and pre-Columbian American cultures.
In ancient Egypt, people used hollow reeds with mud packed around the base to form a seal.
Ear candles, or cleansing cones as they were called, were used by many cultures to cleanse, or to create a movement of energy for healing; this suggests they weren’t used to remove ear wax.
In 2006, an ear candling conference was held in Norwich, where speakers from Switzerland, Canada, the US and Belgium shared research and data about the practice of ear candling.
They confirmed that ear candling isn’t effective as an ear cleansing tool, as there is no suction element or heating up of the ear canal.
Their research focused on the benefits of ear candling to improve lymphatic drainage and strengthening of the immune system.
Theories have suggested energetic input of the ear candle being transferred, via the chakra system, into the physical aspects of life, but with no actual removal of ear wax.
There are two theories about how ear candling works.
Does ear candling draw out wax?
The first theory – the ‘chimney’ theory – is the burning candle creates a vacuum that draws wax out of the ear, along with debris and bacteria.
This is similar to how a chimney draws smoke up and away from a fire.
A study was done to test the chimney theory.
An artificial ear canal was created and the pressure within the ear was measured during a candling session using a tympanometer.
The results showed no negative pressure was created during candling; this meant no chimney effect was created.
It also found that a fine powder was deposited on the artificial eardrum during the session. The powder was analysed and found to constitute multiple alkalines found in candle wax but not in ear wax.
The debris found inside the burned candle was tested and found to be no more than a blend of burned candle wax and fabric.
It also showed up in candles that weren’t even used in ears!
Does ear candling melt the wax?
The second theory suggests no wax is drawn out during the candling session but the wax heats up and melts, causing it to seep out over the following days.
An experiment to examine this theory measured the air temperature 10mm from the base of the candle while it was burning.
The highest temperature reached was 22C. This is well below the core body temperature meaning the wax wouldn’t melt.
Another clinical trial divided participants into two groups – one with impacted ear wax and the other with no ear wax.
Both groups underwent a session of ear candling and photos of the ear canal were taken before and after.
The photographs showed no ear wax was removed from the ears with impacted wax and candle wax was deposited in the ears without wax.
How safe is ear candling?
Based on what we know, there is no evidence that ear candling is effective for the removal of ear wax.
You definitely shouldn’t try it is you have any damage to the eardrum (perforated tympanic membrane), grommets or recent surgery.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using ear candles, noting that the risks are high and that there is ‘no valid scientific evidence for any medical benefit from their use’.
The FDA has prohibited ear candle manufacturers or practitioners from advertising that ear cleaning candles can cure earaches, sinus infections, tinnitus, headaches, vertigo or other health problems.
In 2010 the FDA notified consumers and healthcare providers of its warning not to use ear candles as they can cause serious injuries, even when used according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Risks of ear candling
Besides the fact there are no obvious benefits in ear candling, it also poses several risks that would be better avoided.
Used incorrectly, the hot wax can cause burn injuries or damage to the ear canal or eardrum.
In a study to survey the risks of ear candling, 30 of the 122 participants experienced complications:
- Burns – 13
- Occlusion of the ear canal – 7
- Temporary hearing loss – 6
- Otitis externa – 3
- Tympanic membrane perforation – 1
Many people end up creating more problems with candle wax build up in the ear. This often has to be removed under general anaesthetic.
Is ear candling while pregnant safe?
One of the more fun and weird side effects of pregnancy is more ear wax.
There doesn’t seem to be much known about the cause of increased production of ear wax.
Most health professionals say it’s likely to be related to increased progesterone, or drier skin; and it’s generally just something pregnant women have to put up with.
Because of increased blood volume in pregnancy, you might also feel like you have blocked ears. If so, ear candling while pregnant might seem like a natural and safe way to deal with this.
As stated above, though, there’s no evidence that ear candling while pregnant, or any other time, is an effective way to remove ear wax.
What are the alternatives to ear candling?
If you’re suffering from a build-up of ear wax that’s causing discomfort it’s advisable to have it removed by trained medical professionals.
Although they remove it in pretty much the same way as you might do it at home, they do it with more expertise, and a better view.
They have the right tools to see what they are doing and to identify any related problems that might need treatment.
Ear irrigation involves inserting liquid into the ear canal to flush the ear wax out.
Sometimes a few squirts of water into the ear with a bulb syringe is all that’s needed, but if this does not have the desired result then consult your doctor.
Although ear irrigation is a safe procedure, it is not recommended if you have had previous ear damage or surgery, and it is contraindicated in certain medical conditions.
If water gets into the middle ear it can cause an ear infection.
Microsuction ear cleaning is performed by ear specialist who use a microscope and a medical suction device. The ear wax is gently sucked out of the ear canal.
Another alternative is over the counter eardrops that break up hard, impacted ear wax.
Oil-based products lubricate and soften the wax, making it easier for it to run out of the ear.
It’s recommended that you use a few drops in the ear every night, before bed. Place a piece of cotton wool in the ear, to prevent the oil from running out.
After 4 or 5 days the wax will soften and will come out easily on its own.
So there you have it: the low down on ear wax and what not to do if you have too much of it.
Ear candling while pregnant is not recommended.
Stay away from those ear candles and have wax removed by the professionals!