CONING? DON’T BE A BARBARIAN
BUSTING THE QUACKERY
Don’t be a cone head about coning. Sceptic Guru Daryl Ilbury shines a light on the ancient art of ear candling and finds out whether it’s a flame best snuffed out...
Few things catch my eye in store windows nowadays. Blame it on old age and my perfunctory disregard for all things fashionable. But not so long ago I did a double take when walking past a health shop near my apartment in London. In the window was a picture of a woman lying on her side with a candle sticking out of her ear. It was an advert for a procedure they offered called coning, which they claimed could cure all manner of ills. I thought it looked rather medieval – barbaric even. That’s because it is, and modern science can prove it. Coning, sometimes called ‘ ear candling’ or ‘auricular candling’ (to try and sound like a proper medical procedure), involves sticking a candle into the ear and lighting it. The ‘candle’ is really a hollow tube, usually shaped like a narrow cone, and can be made of a number of flammable materials such wax, cotton dipped in beeswax, or even newspaper soaked in paraffin. It’s sometimes scented. If the product sounds a little rudimentary, the ‘procedure’ of coning is equally so. The narrower end of the ‘candle’ is pushed through a hole in a paper or aluminium foil plate (designed to catch any burning wax), placed in the person’s ear while they’re lying on their side, and the slightly wider end (the one not in the ear) is lit. If that sounds like I’ve oversimplified coning, then here’s a video demonstration to show that I haven’t.
Right now, the sceptic in you should have several obvious questions buzzing around inside your brain, including: What on earth is coning supposed to do; How is it supposed to do this; and, Isn’t it, perhaps, just a little dangerous? It’s claimed coning removes excess wax, ‘toxins’ and ‘ negative energy’ from the outer ear and the Eustachian tube – the canal that connects the middle ear (behind the eardrum) to the back of the throat. This, according to its proponents, helps with problems including sinusitis, earache, sore throats, feelings of imbalance, and even candida infection. Its supposed way of working is where science wags its finger and says, “Erm, I don’t think so”. Coning advocates (‘coners’?) claim smoke spirals down the hollow, burning candle and flushes out the Eustachian tube. At the same time, the heat of the burning end of the candle creates a pressure differential – a mini vacuum – inside the ear, thereby sucking out the earwax and any impurities. Again, your sceptic brain should have several burning doubts inside it, guided by an understanding of basic school biology and physics: How can the hollow tube encourage smoke to go down, while encouraging earwax to come up and out at the same time; Earwax is a pretty solid, so surely it would either have to be melted in order to be sucked out (requiring sufficient heat energy to turn it to liquid), or (if remaining solid) the vacuum would have to be so powerful that it would pop the eardrum; and, The small matter of the eardrum... How does the smoke get past the eardrum to access the middle ear and the Eustachian tube? Now that we know coning can never do what it claims to do, let’s address that other niggling question: isn’t it, perhaps, just a little dangerous? Again, let’s turn to school science to answer that one: the person having the procedure is lying on their side with the candle sticking upwards, out of the ear. When the other end is lit, the
melted wax will, under the influence of gravity, naturally flow downwards towards the ear. Proponents claim the wax only melts on the outside of the candle and is therefore caught by the other piece of high technology: the paper plate through which the candle has been jammed. But remember that it’s a hollow tube, not a normal candle, so of course melted wax can still flow down the inside. This explains why those having the procedure risk severe damage to the ear. What makes the procedure even more dangerous is that coning (or ‘ear candling’) kits are sold online to be used by anyone willing to take the time to read the instructions. As a result, coning seems have developed into something of a home industry. But home candle making is one thing; DIY medical procedures with melting wax are another! So, if it cannot work, why is it still being offered in London health shops and as online kits? Because not everyone is a sceptic, and there will always be people (unfortunately lots of them) who are sufficiently ignorant of science that they’re willing to believe anyone who dazzles them with a little magic. Throw in a little ancient mysticism (apparently the practice of coning dates back to everyone from the ancient Chinese, to the Mayans, the Aztecs, and even the people of Atlantis), and it also sucks in those who eschew modern medicine for pseudoscientific ‘new age’ practices. Of course, you may disagree. You may see the virtue of coning, and consider it neither ineffectual nor barbaric. If that is the case, you may want to try the following: boiling bleach enemas, anti-dandruff scalp sandblasting, nitro-glycerine nasal hair removal, and vaginal tar-and-feathering. Good luck with that.
ABOVE: Residual candle wax found inside a burnt cone.is often alleged to be earwax and toxins, drawn out
of the ear canal.