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3,500-year-old holistic remedy said to extract ear wax

| Friday, July 16, 2004

"Hear ye! Hear ye!"

That's what some Armstrong County residents are doing much better thanks to a 3,500-year-old holistic therapy called ear candling.

Touted as a natural therapy, ear candling was practiced by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. In centuries past, however, the practice most often was reserved for royalty and renowned warriors.

Today, ear candling is practiced by such groups as the Amish and other believers in home remedies and natural healing methods.

Unlike the common everyday-style candle, ear candles are made from a cotton cloth that has been soaked in pure beeswax and rolled to form a hollow tube. The tube is narrowed at one end to fit in the ear canal.

Armstrong County residents Kathy Dreyer and Cathy Hufhand became interested in ear candling several years ago, and now are confirmed devotees.

"I heard some friends talking about it," Hufhand said, "but they didn't know much about it or where to get supplies. So my daughter and I went to some Amish families and asked them. We obtained an address where we could buy ear candles. After getting a few sets of candles we tried the procedure on each other."

At about the same time, Dreyer's son became interested in ear candling.

"Cathy and I are co-workers and to my surprise, I learned that she had already started practicing ear candling. We got together and at first we tried making candles, but later we found it was better to buy commercially made candles."

"We buy them in bulk and package them," she added. "We make up our own labels and each label has a different saying."

Some labels contain a birthday greeting, "Hear are two candles for your birthday, but not for your cake, one for each ear." Other labels might bear the "Hear ye, hear ye" message, or during the winter holiday season labels might read "Hear the bells of Christmas a little clearer this year."

A typical ear candling session takes 30 to 45 minutes, and can be very relaxing.

"It can be done in a variety of ways," Hufhand said. "Some folks like to put on soft, soothing music, and some may even burn incense to add to the mood. However, ear candling is a two-person procedure, you should never try it by yourself."

"It's very relaxing and soothing" Dreyer said, "and because of that there is a danger that you might fall asleep and could be burned by the candle."

Ear candles are mounted in a hole cut into a paper plate or small metal pie pan to prevent hot wax from spilling onto the person having their ears done. Good quality ear candles are made from pure beeswax, and because of the candle's construction there is little if any wax drip. As a precaution, a glass of water is kept handy to extinguish the flame.

A small, soft towel is placed around the person's ear while he lies on his side. The person performing the procedure gently places the narrow cone end of the candle into the entrance of the ear canal. The tube-shaped candles are made from unbleached cotton cloth soaked in beeswax. The candle is lit and through a process called convection, softer ear waxes will be drawn into the base of the candle. Ear candlers believe the softer waxes may contain trapped pollen, airborne dust and dirt, and even ear mites or small insects. When excess wax is removed, the trapped impurities go with it.

Although Dreyer or Hufhand do not make any claims regarding ear candling benefits, some ear candling advocates claim the procedure will cleanse the ear canal, improve hearing, relieve ear aches and relieve sinus pressure. A few ear candling practitioners go so far as to claim the method may clear the eyes, fortify the central nervous system, release blocked energy and help stabilize emotions.

Controversy over ear candling is a burning issue. None of the above claims have been proven scientifically.

Moreover, according to Food and Drug Administration regulations, ear candles may not be sold or advertised as medical devices. In September 1998, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert against and prohibited the importation of ear candles from Canada, primarily due to advertising claims of supposed medical benefits included in their packaging.

While some government agencies may throw cold water on ear candling, the ancient art form continues to have its share of holistic therapy devotees. To ear candlers, the big ball of wax that accumulates in the end of an ear candle after a candling session is all the proof they need that excess wax has been purged from the ear canal.

Although Hufhand and Dreyer are not in the ear candling business, nor are they ear candling practitioners, they do offer their ear candle packages at craft shows. Each package comes with a set of instructions explaining the procedure.

They caution that there are some people who should not practice ear candling, namely anyone with a perforated ear drum, an ear tube or serious ear problems.

Whether ear candling benefits are real or imagined, most all who have had their ears candled agree that candling is soothing and relaxing.

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