Friday, February 19, 2010

Health care experts warn against “ear candles”

Using hot wax to cure ear ailments is dangerous and can harm your ear, health care officials warn.

Does dripping hot wax into your ear sound dangerous? American and Canadian health care officials thinks so, and they have teamed up to warn consumers against so-called “ear candles.”

These candles, which are hollow cones about 10 inches long and made from fabric soaked in beeswax or paraffin, are being marketed as treatments for a number of ear ailments. Yet health care agencies, including the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), say they have received a number of reports of people, including children, being burned or suffering ear injuries from the devices. In at least one case surgery was required.

In an era when technology is changing the way we care for our health, ear candle companies claim their products are a solid alternative to traditional health care techniques and can treat a variety of ear problems. These conditions include ear-wax buildup, sinus infections, hearing loss, headaches, colds, flu, and sore throats. Ear candling involves placing the candle in the outer ear, usually while the ear ailment sufferer lies on his or her side. It is also done with the person sitting upright. Then, the end of the “candle” is lit. Marketers claim that the warmth of the flame produces suction that draws wax and other impurities out of the ear canal.

"Some ear candles are offered as products that purify the blood, strengthen the brain, or even 'cure' cancer," says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., clinical deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. Some of the manufacturers even suggest the candles be used on children – who are particularly vulnerable to ear infections. But Mann warns that the candles can cause serious injury even when used exactly according to the package directions. Also, Mann added that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to back manufacturers’ claims of health care benefits.

Specifically, the FDA warns that ear candle users are at risk for

  • starting a fire,
  • burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear
  • injury to the ear from dripping wax
  • ears plugged by candle wax
  • bleeding and puncture of the eardrum
  • delay in seeking needed medical care for underlying conditions such as sinus and ear infections and other ear problems

The FDA is teaming up with other agencies, including the Canadian public health regulatory agency Health Canada, to act against manufacturers of ear candles. The two health care agencies have issued import alerts, injunctions, and warning letters. They also have seized shipments of the product.

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