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The question

My ears are prone to wax. 'Candling' has been suggested to me by friends, but I'm not sure I believe in it. What's your take?

The answer

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While it can be uncomfortable and lead to temporary hearing loss, earwax is an important part of your body's natural defences. In addition to lubricating the ear canal, earwax protects against dirt buildup and prevents infection by inhibiting growth of bacteria and fungus.

The ear has a natural self-cleaning system that limits excess wax accumulation but, on occasion, wax can still build up. It is unclear why some people have more wax buildup than others and why one ear is often more prone to excessive wax than the other.

And even though earwax is mainly beneficial to our bodies, when it becomes hardened, it can cause ringing in the ears, reversible hearing loss and dizziness.

There are many ways to safely remove earwax. While candling is promoted as a natural way to clean out the ears, the truth is there are safer and more effective ways to clear wax.

Candling is meant to work by creating a vacuum that warms and draws out earwax and debris from the ear. Research has shown there is no evidence to support this assertion and has found that there are potential risks involved with candling, including burns to the ear or skin, obstruction of the ear canal due to candle wax and damage to the ear drum.

Health Canada classifies ear candles as medical devices and has made it illegal to sell them for therapeutic reasons because of the potential harm they may cause.

If you are looking for safer options, consider using baby oil, mineral oil or olive oil drops to help soften the wax. Softer wax can clear out naturally.

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If this doesn't to work, visit your doctor for safe removal. Avoid the use of cotton swabs, such as Q-tips, or sharp objects, such as hairpins, to dig out wax as they can damage the ear and can push the wax further into the canal, making it more difficult to remove.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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