The Ear Candle Debacle

This falls squarely into the “don’t try this at home category.”

A couple weekends ago I awoke with a feeling in my ears like someone had loosely clamped conch shells onto my noggin like headphones. “NOOOooooo,” I groaned, thinking I’d contracted an awful cold at a really bad time. The line from Ferris Bueller popped into my head, “When Cameron was in Egypt’s land… let my Cameron go…” It was the perfect sentiment except that my name’s not Cameron and I’m a woman.

“Wah wah wah wah wahhh, wah wah wah,” the television said, as if Charlie Brown’s parents were lecturing me from the inside of a bass drum. “Noooo…” I said again. As I walked around the house trying to distinguish my thoughts from the duck cloth that seemed to be lodged in my Eustachian tubes, I felt like I was in a dated submarine movie where I needed to use sonar to locate the spare toilet paper.

To the world wide web I went. Google provided many answers as to how to relieve the pressure in one’s ears. The most intriguing solution had to do with microwaving rice in a sock. The mental interference caused by hearing the ocean while over a hundred miles away from the ocean made this concept difficult to grasp.

Did you cook the rice first? Was it brown rice or white rice? I had basmati rice. Did that work better? Was I overcomplicating rice in a sock? Did you cook them with a fox? Did you cook them in a box? Then there were tips from people who put various objects and oils in their ears, and oh, ear candles.

Now I’d heard of ear candles before but thought they sounded disgusting and ridiculous. Who puts a candle in their ear? Didn’t their mothers teach them not to insert foreign objects into their ear canals? Shuddering at the idea, I decided, in a flash of brilliance that transcended the flotsam and jetsam in my brain, to use a heat pad I already had. The warmth and squishiness of the heat pad was comforting, but it further challenged my hearing as I sprawled on the couch to watch John Carter.

This version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ granddaddy of space sci fi epics was superior to the Antonio Sabato Jr. and Traci Lords Princess of Mars flick from a few years ago. Lords seemed to display just a single facial expression until the final scene when the twisted scowl of faux-fierceness broke into strange laughter.

In John Carter, it’s noteworthy that the aliens liked to use words that reverberated like “Barsooooom” and “Viirrrgiiinnnia.” They really did say them like that at times, which only made my auditory challenges worse. So while the visual effects were great and I’m sure the sound engineers did a bang up job, I felt like I’d watched Taylor Kitsch jump really high and inspire another race from the inside of a harvest gold 1970s clothes dryer.

“Enough of this,” I thought, and headed for the local health food store. I sought out a helpful clerk and asked him for his two cents on ear-unclogging remedies. He pointed me to those weird, New Agey ear candles among other things. I stared at them, I walked away; I stared at them, I walked away. Finally I decided that I could spare $4 to give them a try even though the external packaging didn’t say how to use them. “Put them in your ear, light the fuse– er, wick,” I mused. “How hard could that be?” The clerk advised me to have a spotter if I attempted this remedy.

“Bah,” I grumbled. I didn’t want to wait for anyone to help me with this. I wanted to unclog my ears. So in the true pioneering, adventurous spirit of my ancestors, without waiting for assistance, I sat on the couch and fired up ear candle number one. “KKhhhoooooo,” it burned as I laid down on my side. I’d cut a paper plate to wrap around the bottom of it like the sparse internal instructions said, so figured nothing would drip on my head. I inserted the base of the candle into my ear canal, hoping no one would surprise me as I felt quite foolish lying in the living room with a flaming object in my ear.

Trying to fit the candle into my ear comfortably was somewhat like fitting a wooden dowel into one’s tear duct, but eventually it settled in. The “kkhhhooooo” sound was both alarming and soothing because I didn’t expect the candle to burn so vigorously. If I had recorded this incident from my perspective, you would have heard “kkhhooooo”– silence– “kkhhooooo”— silence repeatedly. That was me taking the candle out of my ear, checking on it, and putting it back in. Every time I checked on the candle (silence) it seemed that the flame had grown half an inch taller. But hey, I spent four whole dollars on these things, which wage-wise equated to the amount of time I spent listening to a crabby customer the other day, so I was going to let them burn right down to the alleged safety line.

“Kkhhhooooooooo,” the towering flame cooed down the hollow taper into my ear. “KKHHHHOOOOOOO!!” Wait for it… wait for it… it wasn’t at the safety line… I could still get some life out of this pillar of fire and draw whatever vile impurities were in my ear out. The flame did seem to create some sort of suction. As I remained in a horizontal position, stiffened like an assistant hoping their knife-throwing boss wouldn’t skewer them on the next toss, the candle suddenly came apart in a shower of sparks, landing on both me and the couch.

“BLAHHH!!” I yelled as I made wild, flailing efforts to sweep the glowing fragments off of myself and the couch that has thus far survived every assault, children, animal, or dietary. That just pushed the embers onto my dog and the carpet. “AAGGGGHH!!!” I yelled at my hound as I swatted the particles off of him, trying to get him to move so I could use my bare feet to stomp out the mess that had landed on the floor. This was a delicate balancing act; in the meantime, I was holding a geyser of flame in my hand that was creeping down towards its paper plate collar. It seemed more powerful than the Roman candles we once bought from the Puyallups.

“Nooo…” I yelled like a melodramatic action movie star as dog tried to comprehend what had made me break into a frenzy of activity after almost fusing with the furniture. I ran to the kitchen sink and doused the Olympic torch in an empty yogurt container. Douse, douse, douse. There. It was out. Still fuzzy, I grabbed half a glass of water and ran back to the scene of the crime to drown any kibbles and bits of ear candle one that remained alive. I spread the water around with my feet first, probably a subconscious gesture that relieved the tiny burns on my hands from further discomfort. “Phew,” I breathed. “That was close.” Except in my head that sounded like Jabba the Hut on 33 rpm– “phhooooo— jocka wabb wasabi mohse…” (and then all the evil little Muppets around him cackled).

Wow. That was interesting. I realized that the so-called safety tip of ear candle one had broken off from its rocket booster and fallen flaming from its lofty perch. Why it did this when the waxy tube had not reached its safety line or the paper plate barrier was beyond me. Why call it a safety tip if it was going to come loose and burn people and their belongings? Was this a joke candle, like those birthday candles that can’t be blown out? And if the wick had detached, I guess that meant that the body of the candle was still quite contentedly on fire– “KKHHHOOOOOO! Reach for the sky!”

Keeping in mind that I was utilizing the logic of one who felt like they were bobbing around in dirty dishwater with their ears submerged, I decided that ear candle number one was a dud and ear candle number two was worth a try. This time, I convinced myself, I had the hang of it. This time, uh huh, I would do the kkhhhoooo/silence/kkhhhoooo/silence check more often. After all, NASA didn’t get all of their original rockets to work, but after awhile, they worked just fine, so I should try again, whatever sense that parallel made.

“Kkhhhooo…” Ah… (Jacques Cousteau voice). We are enjoying the healing suction of a warm, soothing ear candle after a rollicking sci fi movie. Breathe in, breathe out. Kkhhooo. Silence. Kkhhooo. Silence. Barsoooooomm. The neurotic neighbor dog sounds like he’s barking inside of a barrel made of sturdy oak in an echo chamber. Be quiet neighbor dog. No one wants to listen to you announce your ninja assassin postmaster hallucination that you have two out of every ten minutes. Kkhhooo…

Sizzle, snap, “AAAHHHHH!!!” The safety tip of ear candle two had dislodged and was raining fire and brimstone down just like its predecessor. “BLAH!!!” Stomp, stomp, stomp. Go, dog, go! Brush, brush. KKHHOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!! The flame was rising towards the ceiling again, a beacon freed from the surly bonds of the safety tip. Run, run, run, douse, douse, douse. More water. Stomp stomp stomp. This time, my Jabba-esque comments were far more damning and probably sounded like “AH KINDOFF MORRON QUE DOZE PASA DEES MORRON TING LAAK DIZZ?” (a ha ha ha ha, ha ha).

The moral of the story: ear candles are dangerous. Other people need to be at home if you decide to do something this dangerous. The safety tip of ear candles is actually a poorly timed projectile that reaches a temperature similar to the pockmarked crust of Mercury. The paper plate contraption will not save you. The safety line is not safe.

You might as well stuff an old doily in a paper towel tube, light it up, and expect your ear infection to willingly slither out the other side before you alter your hairstyle by five inches. I learned later, no thanks to the lightweight instructions, that ear candles are more for removing ear wax. I must ask– if you have so much ear wax in your ears that you essentially need fireworks to get it out, why aren’t you using Q-tips, dude?

I will not use them in a box. I will not use them with a fox. I will not use ear candles, Sam I Am. And in a hilarious irony, it turns out that both the cause and the solution lay outside the purview of my initial self-diagnosis.

So don’t go burning your house down to get rid of an earache. Don’t let your sick brain interfere with common sense and fire safety. If you feel an overwhelming desire to witness ear candles in action, there’s plenty of videos on YouTube showing you how it’s done “safely.”



I couldn’t remember when I had been so disappointed. Except perhaps the time I found out that M&Ms really do melt in your hand… -Peter Oakley


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

5 thoughts on “The Ear Candle Debacle

  1. Ear candling, lol. While we still use Medieval techniques, the British (and their “socialist” National Health) have moved on to a sterile micro-suction device with a little camera so that you can get instant and painless relief. And not burn the house down.


  2. Oh my. I’m glad you didn’t burn down the house. They really do work well for ear wax – mostly if you have allergies that make you get lots of wax that cue tips can’t handle. And you DEFINITELY need someone else handling the candle (that was my job).


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