Guru Magazine - - Contents -

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 of­ten al­leged to be ear­wax and tox­ins, drawn out

of the ear canal.

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