Do not try this at home.
No. Really. Do not try this at home.
This is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" articles.
We have a running joke in the Webbhouse that dear ol' dad has trouble hearing certain tones. Low tones, high tones and even toe-tappin' tones.
So when a potential cheap home remedy for my suspect hearing came up at the nightly kitchen table gathering of the "Huh? and What? Club," I was all ears.
The conversation went something like this...
My daughter Teagan muttered something to effect, "I fried channeling another day."
"Huh?" I responded.
Using her outside voice, Teagan repeated, "I TRIED CANDLING THE OTHER DAY."
"What?" I muttered while sputtering out a spoonful of mashed potatoes. "Our daughter was, channeling, er, candling! Egads!"
Teagan had to talk me off the parental ledge, explaining it didn't involve a tattoo artist or a bartender. She said the practice entails sticking a so-called "naturally relaxing" candle in the side of your head and waiting for it to suck all the yucky earwax, small critters and paperclips out of your ear canal.
Faster than you can say "Discount Drug Mart saves you the run around..." Teagan was gone, only to return home with a package of Wally's Natural Ear Candles.
Let me just say this in my defense: The whole thing seemed perfectly logical at the time and a $4 investment seemed cheaper at the time than a $60 insurance co-pay.
Aside from my suspect hearing, I also share the Webb male trait of not reading directions.
I took a cursory look at the cartoon-like instructions on the side of the package, and it seemed simple enough. You stick a candle in your ear, light the end and whoosh, the earwax and gunk gets sucked out of your noggin and you will again have the keen hearing of a bat.
But once you are actually lying on a flammable couch with an odd-looking candle shooting flames out of the side of your head, your very life depending on the medical skills of your college-age daughter, it doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore.
I kept repeating, "I'm not on fire, right?" over and over again. With flames dancing in her eyes and a worried look on her face, Teagan repeatedly shook her head no.
Truth be told, I couldn't hear much during the flaming ritual anyway. There's the whole candle in your ear, not being able to hear certain tones thing and the background grumblings of my dear wife, Jennifer, from across the room. I could make out a few of her words though.
"Idiot (mumble, mumble) unbelievable (mumble, mumble) insurance deductible (mumble mumble) is the pillow on fire or your dad's head?"
The candles were supposed to be a soothing lavender scent, but I swear it smelled a bit closer to singed ear hair. Each took about an hour or so to burn, or maybe it was just 15 minutes that felt like an hour.
There was no miracle ear for me when we were done.
"Doughnut any defiance?" Teagan asked.
"Huh?" I replied.
"DO YOU NOTICE A DIFFERENCE?" she shouted at me.
"What?" I answered.
"Exactly," Jennifer muttered.
We then carefully opened the remaining ends of the candles to see the results. It was, in a word, gross.
There was a fair amount of stinky powder and a couple small chunks of earwax. Some studies have found that this powder is in fact a byproduct of the ear candle itself.
I grabbed the package to give it a closer look and under the larger print words "relax, unwind and enjoy" was the dire instruction that I overlooked before this whole unfortunate incident started. "Consult your physician prior to use."
Ask the expert
So after the fact, I reached out to someone obviously far smarter than myself about the safety and effectiveness of candling to lend an ear to the potential dangers.
Let's just say Cleveland Clinic otolaryngologist Dr. Erika Woodson was far too polite to outright call me an idiot, but her long pauses and sighs as I recounted my tale of flames shooting from ears spoke volumes.
Woodson is the real deal. She is an expert on the subject and even helped pen a national paper in 2017 on the dangers of such home remedies. Patients end up going to her when things go terribly wrong with their ears, both naturally and unnaturally.
Right off the bat, Woodson said (actually she said this several times) there's no evidence that sticking a hollow candle in one's ear and lighting the end will remove wax and improve hearing.
The theory is the lit candle will create suction that will, well, suck out the earwax, but Woodson said these candles will never create enough suction to make any difference at all.
What these candles will create, she explains, is a powder and hot wax that could potentially drip into your ear, damaging the ear canal and eardrum.
"This can do incredible harm," she said.
Anyone who suspects they have an unnatural buildup of earwax (some wax in your ear is normal) causing hearing loss, Woodson said, should make an appointment with a physician or a specialist, rather than taking the medical advice of a daughter studying opera who might be home from college for the weekend.
"This is not because we are making millions off of earwax," she said. "This warning is simply to protect the public."
Craig Webb, who is swearing off all candles, even birthday candles, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.