November 28, 2007

Give 'Em An Earful

I was down at my dad's place while in Edinburgh last week, and found a leaflet that had been shoved through the letter slot, advertising the ancient folk remedy of Earcandling. Written in hilarious German pseudo-English, the pitch (web version) was full of fascinating background and sage advice, such as:
Earcandles have a purely physical function. A light suction action (chimney effect) and the movement of the flame create a vibration of air in the Earcandle, generating a massage-like effect on the eardrum. This induces a pleasant feeling of warmth... The whole ceremony brings a wonderful relaxation, a deep sense of security and a feeling of happiness which is seldom experienced.
Earcandles are used by setting them alight. Beware of the fire hazard!

...When preparations are complete, your partner sits comfortably next to you.

He/She should light the Earcandle at the unlabeled end and place the non-burning end gently into the outer ear passage. [Emphases in original – just in case, presumably...]
My fancy tickled, I retired to Google to see what else I could find out about this venerable and time-honoured healing technique.

Amazingly, the professional medical community finds the practice of inserting flaming cloth into your ears a little alarming. For example, Health Canada notes with the brute charm of a 1950s public service announcement:
The practice of ear candling has recently become popular as an alternative therapy. Some promoters say it is an ancient treatment that can cure a number of medical problems. Don't listen: ear candling is dangerous, and has no proven medical benefits. [En Français]
Interestingly, the anti-earcandle lobby seems to have its most vocal contingent in Canada, which provides, in addition to Health Canada's admonitions, articles from NOW Magazine (Toronto), and even the CBC:
Toronto ear-nose-and-throat specialist Dr. Rick Fox first heard about ear candling when a patient arrived in his office in incredible pain...

Fox spent that Christmas day reconstructing the man's ear for a treatment he says doesn't work at all...

[He] told Marketplace that, for most people, the wax in their ears is not a problem. He says a good ear is like a good oven – and performs its own self-cleaning.
Ears are like ovens... So that explains why steam comes out of them sometimes!

I don't know what the strong anti-earcandling streak says about Canada, but it's still tame compared to the official American line:
FDA has never cleared or approved a marketing application for ear candles for any... therapeutic uses...

FDA has undertaken several successful regulatory actions including product seizures and injunctions since 1996. These actions were based, in part, upon violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which pose an imminent danger to health. Specifically...

The label of the “device fails to bear adequate directions for use since adequate directions cannot be written for the device’s purported use," Section [502(f)(1)]. [Emphasis mine]
Whoa! Earcandles are so useless that no language exists to express any possible use they might have. That is a pretty tough line, no? I think this is possibly the first time the US Government has invoked Derrida in defending its regulatory decisions.

If, after all this, you are not all earcandled out, YouTube has a number of videos demonstrating the usage and alleged results of the product. Otherwise, consider yourself a little cannier for the next time you're in the market for otological treatments.

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