I’m a Flaming Idiot

We are lucky enough to have a child who is fabulously healthy: no trips to the emergency room, very few sleepless nights and only mild cases of childhood illnesses. But there have been a few occasions when a respiratory tract infection has turned into an ear infection. And ear infections suck.

For the record, Rose is a major drama queen when it comes to illness or injury. A mildly stubbed toe results in floods of tears and much wailing and moaning for the benefit of whoever arrives first on the scene. All of which is repeated when the other parent arrives (having heard the screaming) to find out whether an ambulance is required.

Yes, I know, this is learnt behaviour. Yes, she learnt it from me.

So in the dramatic mode, when Rose has an ear infection, everybody knows about it. There is no sleep for anyone until the poor child, who by this time has genuinely worked herself into a total state, can be induced to swallow a spoon of Stopayne or similar. The drama attached to the swallowing of a spoon of pain killer cannot really be explained. There are tears. There is sobbing. There is screaming. There is very often medicine splashed, spilt or spat onto the bedding. Eventually, the vial concoction (actually a lovely berry flavour) is consumed. There is finally some sleep. Until four or six hours later when it all starts again.

A trip to the doctor usually means antibiotics. Not such a lovely berry flavour. This means more crying, sobbing, screaming, spitting etc. It sometimes means pinning the child down and force feeding her the medication. NOT WORTH IT! No surprise, I’m open to alternatives ….

Enter ear candles.

I first encountered ear candles years ago, when a housemate asked me to help her use them to clear her ears after a long flight. For those who don’t know, ear candles are hollow tubes of linen dipped in wax. You stick one in your ear and light it and it supposedly creates a slight vacuum which sucks wax and other gunk out your ear. I’ve tried them a few times myself and thought they seemed to have some result. (Confession: I was rather attracted by being able to see all that dark orange wax inside the candle at the end!)

Mou has always thought ear candles ridiculous and has mocked me mercilessly for using them. He has pointed out to me (repeatedly) that they are quackery and that the wax inside the candle is … wait for it … candle wax. Somehow, despite my desire to be a rational, critical thinking person, I never listened to a word he said, but just went on candelling my ears. Yes, I know how loony that sounds.

Now, I’m thinking of lighting candles in my daughter’s ears. (I don’t actually think that that the ear candles will get rid of an ear infection, but rather that they might help her ears to feel less blocked. So they are not really an alternative to either pain medication or antibiotics).

This at last prompts me to actually consider whether there is any value to this exercise. A bit of thinking and reading has made me aware of the flaws in the “science” behind this practice and though I’m basically convinced, I still feel the need to prove it to myself.

candle, gauze, lighterTime for some home experimentation. I buy some ear candles. I place a thin piece of gauze on the ear end, stick it in my ear and light it up. After a few minutes, they candle has burnt down. I remove it and inspect the ear end. Surprise! The orange wax build-up is all on the candle side of the gauze. In other words, not out of my ear. I am, I admit it, a flaming bloody idiot.

I throw the remaining candle in the bin.

Stupid story. What interests me though is why it was so hard for me to get over the ear candle thing. I have long been convinced that homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and various other forms of pseudoscience are all useless, so why not ear candles? For some inexplicable reason, I really wanted this to be true. Perhaps because it seemed so harmless (which it is not – read more at what’s the harm and web-md). Perhaps because there is very little one can do to unblock an ear after a flight or illness. Perhaps because the orange wax inside the candle looks so temptingly like a tangible result. Maybe we all of us simply have a deep inner yearning to believe in magic!

Although I still don’t really understand my desire to cling to a belief in ear candling, at least I have a little more empathy for parents who resist the truth about other quackery. An appeal to logic and reason isn’t always that compelling, sometimes, people need to find the proof themselves.

And I am pleased to discover that although I was prepared to quack myself, I was not prepared to quack my child.

For now, at least I don’t look like a complete moron with a lit candle in my ear.

Photo credit: The author. The public posting of this ridiculous photo of myself with a candle flaming in my ear is my penance for resisting reason for so long.


The mother of two girls (Rose, 6, and Fynn, 11 months), Mombot is a feminist and human rights activist based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a fairly laid back approach to parenting if you ignore the regular rants about the proliferation of the colour pink, the lack of diversity amongst "girls' " toys, the scarcity of good role models for girls in the media etc etc etc.

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  1. Hey, but at least you can write about it being funny 😉
    The antibiotics we usually get are actually pretty sweet.
    And I really liked that on the last box there were little “bacteria” which the child could punch out with a pencil every time they had taken their medicine.

  2. LOL.

    It took me a long while to convince Spouse that candling was a hoax. He went so far as to buy some ear candles and use one, showing me the gunk inside as proof that it really works. I then took the other candle and burnt it without first attaching it to the side of anyone’s head. Lo and behold, gunk. He was, um, displeased with this result.

    The last vestiges of woo are sometimes the hardest to shed. Our house still contains arnica gel and Airborne, and Spouse *still* tries to get me and the kids to take daily vitamins “for health/just in case” despite none of us having any sort of nutritional deficiency that we know of.

  3. Candling is one of those things that I kind of want to not be woo when I have an earache, because the idea of having something warm in there just sounds soothing. My husband’s mother used to pour warm oil in her kids’ ears for earaches, which again, sounds lovely, but with high scalding potential.

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