Fire One Up 

I was at a health fair Sunday and a woman selling ear candles told me that I should try a pair. She said that they would not only remove my earwax, but would help my sinus problems and relax me at the same time. Is there anything to this?

-Jesse

From its mysterious, ancient roots, ear candling (or coning) probably inspired the very first people on earth to remark: Your village called, they're missing their idiot. The sight of someone sticking a rolled wax cone into their ear and lighting it on fire, probably didn't engender much confidence in the medicine man, at least until he gave them an explanation.

Ear candling begins with securely sealing the ear canal with a beeswax impregnated paper or linen cone. The theory says that by lighting it on fire, suction and warmth will pull excess earwax, fungus, toxins and any remaining Altoids from the final Cher concert up into the cone where they can be examined, pointed at knowingly and discarded. In addition, since all canals are connected, your sinuses, nerves and, indeed, your brain will be cleaned and cleared of all unpleasantness by the soothing smoke.

Yet, the evidence of coning's effectiveness is thinner than Whitney Houston's forearm-actually, more like her current career-virtually nonexistent. A Medline search produces a single article on the subject from the journal Laryngoscope, which not only finds absolutely no value in removing earwax, but also describes a number of injuries associated with the use of ear candles. If you smell burning hair, give yourself five points.

Controlled experiments by a number of bored researchers (as well as thoroughly engrossed amateurs) have concluded that the residue from ear candling is nothing more than beeswax and ash from the cone itself. The larger question is, do you really need to clean your ears? The answer for most people is no. Earwax (cerumen) consists of a protective, sticky substance secreted by glands that line your ear canal and includes dust, debris, bacteria and tiny insects like mites. It's been referred to as nature's no-pest strip. The skin of the ear canal grows very slowly from inside to outside, bringing with it the used wax (with its adherent flora and fauna) which is easily washed away by anyone who does a meticulous job in the tub.

Trust me when I say Q-Tips are best used for joke lollipops, paperclips for cleaning fingernails and twisted napkin corners are more functional in a different orifice. If you have impacted the cerumen in your ear, you need a 10-minute appointment with your otolaryngologist, who can also help you with the pronunciation of his occupation.

If you are a thrill seeker looking for new dangers to conquer, or just need a cool picture for your blog, go ahead and try ear candling. But, please take my advice: Wear a helmet.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send health related questions and strident disagreements to theantidote@edrabin.com.

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