Hopi ear candles, quackery and the BBC

Not having put candles in my ear before, I was intrigued by this sign in Chislehurst advertising Hopi Ear Candles (with the promise of more.) Now people often deride Wikipedia because of the edit wars that go on over entries concerning politicians or celebrities; but the relentless drive for citations and neutral point of view does have its advantages when it comes to an objective assessment of such things as ear candling. Reading the entry over dinner was most entertaining.

In the "therapy" of ear candling, a cylinder or cone of waxed cloth is placed into the ear and lit, creating "negative pressure" (that sounds scientific, doesn't it?) Supposedly it thus draws wax and debris out of the ear canal. In fact, the material that results has been found to be residue from the burnt cloth. The FDA in America has warned that the practice is dangerous, for the eminently sensible reason that,
"the use of a lit candle in the proximity of a person's face would carry a high risk of causing potentially severe skin/hair burns and middle ear damage."
As of 2008, two people have set their houses on fire while ear candling, one incident resulting in death.

What about the "Hopi" bit? you might ask. Ear candling enthusiasts insist that it is an ancient therapy, and the manufacturer of the ear candles, Biosun, claims that the candles have their origin in the "Hopi Indians" and other primitive tribes. Unfortunately the "primitive tribe" (in fact, a respected ethnic group of Native Americans based in Northern Arizona) has not been complacent in the claims of Biosun. Now magazine of Canada contacted the Hopi Tribal Council in Kykotsmovi. Their Public Relations Officer, Vanessa Charles said that the practice of ear candling "is not and has never been a practice conducted by the Hopi tribe or the Hopi people."

It is sad enough that people in Chislehurst should part with their money for such quackery. It is astonishing, though, to find the BBC website carrying an article extolling the benefits of this entirely discredited therapy. A link directs readers to the BBC Health Website which offers, among other things, advice on Sexual Health, promising to give the facts about STIs and how to protect yourself. The item is illustrated by multi-coloured condoms. Young people who might rely on their information would be well advised to look at the official Statistics on STIs.

Can we trust the BBC? Not on ear candling or on sexual health, no.

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