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Now Hear This!

Among the many unusual health items being offered on the Internet and in health-food stores and pharmacies is the ear candle--a hollow, foot-long fabric cone touted as the natural way to remove ear wax. The candle is impregnated with paraffin or beeswax and inserted into the ear while you're lying on your side with one ear up. After covering your face and hair with a towel or paper plate to fend off dripping wax, the person assisting you lights the candle, allowing it to burn for 15 minutes.

In theory, the heat melts the earwax, and a vacuum created by the heat draws the wax up into the cone. And we have, in fact, heard from someone who swears by the practice. However, a recent survey of more than 100 otolaryngologists (ear and throat specialists) revealed that you're more likely to end up with an ear full of candle wax--if not something more serious like burns, perforation of the eardrum, or temporary hearing loss.

Earwax is nature's protection against dust or other external irritants--as well as infectious agents--getting into the inner recesses of the ear. Normally, it removes itself by drying up and making its way to the outer ear, where regular washing takes care of it. When it does accumulate, however, it may block the ear and impair hearing. If that occurs, don't try to remove it with a cotton swab or other instrument--you'll only push it farther into the ear or may even injure the eardrum or the ear canal.

The best and simplest way to remove excess earwax (provided you don't have a perforated eardrum) is to use warm mineral or vegetable oil--either of which works just as well as over-the-counter softeners. Put a drop or two in the ear with a medicine dropper. Then, with head upright and a basin under the ear, flush out the ear with warm water introduced with a rubber syringe, allowing the water to drain by tipping your head sideways. If that doesn't work, let your doctor's nurse or physician's assistant do the job for you. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or other products that fizz--they can injure the eardrum.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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