Daily Telegraph 5 May 2008

Hopi: a candle brought music to my ears

Liz Mulholland waxes lyrical about a treatment used by the Ancient Greeks and American Indians

I've always spoken with an adenoidal twang and I liked to think it was part of my northern charm. Two weeks ago, I discovered it wasn't. It was a moment of Damascene significance in my life as, for the first time, I heard my own voice as others hear it (less shrill than I suspected), while everything else around me sounded as if someone had turned up the volume a notch or two.

"London is LOUD, isn't it," I texted a friend. God, I felt good, euphoric almost - as though my brain had been "freed up". This must be how normal people feel all the time, I thought; people whose auditory canals and sinuses are as clear and free-flowing as a mountain stream.

My own anatomy in this region had more in common with the old Leeds and Liverpool Canal - static and stagnant - until a kindly therapist stuck a burning candle in each ear, decongesting them, releasing pressure and triggering a wonderful ripple effect throughout all interconnected tubes and cavities.

Therapist Marie Coudounas was diplomatic. "There's a lot of build-up, particularly in your left ear," she said. "You may need to come again." What she meant was, "You have a disgusting amount of wax and one treatment won't shift it."

I am now addicted to what is known as thermal auricular therapy, or ear candling. Though subsequent treatments have not proved as dramatic as the first, the decongested life is a revelation, and more pleasant than knocking back Sudafed.

Ear candling, a traditional therapy used by the Ancient Greeks, was popularised by the Hopi Indian tribe of the American south-west. The narrow, hollow rolled column of cotton flax is impregnated with beeswax. Now know as Hopi candles, they also contain honey, sage, St Johns Wort, and camomile. The patient lies on their side and a candle is gently inserted as far as is comfortable into the ear canal. It doesn't hurt, but it feels odd.

"You'll hear a noise like sizzling bacon," Marie told me as she lit the candle; yes, and a gentle "whooshing" warming sensation as things started happening in my ear. She held it steady while a plug in the base of the candle stopped any drips into the ear canal.

After 10 minutes, the candle had burned down to a marker - an inch and a half from the ear - and Marie put out the flame. I rolled over and the process was repeated for the other ear.

According to practitioners, the candles work like a chimney, drawing impurities out. Most are burned away, although some may be found in the candle wax residue - your therapist will show you - or may appear (on a cotton bud) 24 to 48 hours after treatment. The column of warm air rising in the candle is said to massage the ear drum while pressure in the sinus cavities and ears is equalised.

The medical view is sceptical. Mr Santdeep Paun, consultant nasal and facial plastic surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, says he can't see how candling can work: "There could be a change in pressure in theory, but I'm not sure this can unblock eustachian tubes or sinuses."

Fair enough, but it worked for me. Given that sinusitis is the most common chronic illness in Britain with nine million sufferers, and that 2.3 million people suffer ear wax problems, surely it is worth a try?


Ear candling is not advised if you:
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are 12 weeks (or under) pregnant
  • Wear grommets
  • Are suffering an ongoing ear or sinus infection
  • Are allergic to any of the ingredients in the candle

Click here to enquire about a Hopi Ear Candle Session

Contact me:
Email: heatherhull@btinternet.com
Tel: 0114 289 1342