Gizmorama: Life in the Tech Age

By WES STEWART, United Press International  |  July 3, 2002 at 1:30 AM
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Today's discussion is about that junk in your ears. Earwax. Something we all carry to one degree or another.

Set aside the fact that you can't polish furniture or your car with it. Despite its ubiquitousness -- go ahead, run to your Webster's -- nobody wants to talk about it, except maybe comedian George Carlin, who has expounded about ear wax for years. Then again, who else would want to expound about it?

It turns out there are a couple of aspects to this ancient substance that have insinuated themselves into the technological age.

First, a little bit of background. The wax is produced by tiny glands in your ears similar to sweat glands. Let's call them "Pledganoids." The wax serves to gather junk that otherwise would contaminate the ear canal -- such as dust, lint and an occasional wayward gnat -- possibly causing an infection.

The wax catches the impurities, sort of migrates outward, dries up and falls out. Daily washing removes the bits before they pile up. The problem is, in some of us, the Pledganoids are quite active. They produce more wax than we need and really pile it up at the opening of the ear canal. Too much can even cause hearing loss.

People with this problem seem to have two ways of dealing with it. Some either wash more frequently or violate the old "if it's sharper than your elbow, don't put it in your ear" rule to get out the crud.

Others misguided souls seem to ignore the situation. They choose instead to let nature take its course. By "nature," we mean the earpieces on public telephones, some of which ought to be accompanied by signs reading "Caution! Excess Earwax Deposit Zone."

So much for the first tech age connection. The second involves an old, old cure: Ear candling.

Ear candling involves using ear cones, which essentially are hollow candles, except you are the candle-holder. You lay your head down while a friend or family member -- someone close and trustworthy -- places the candle over your ear and lights it. No, we are not making this up.

Ear cones usually are made of beeswax, which burns at a lower temperature and tends not to drip, melted, into the ear canal. We'll skip describing the consequences of that development.

The hollowness and burning of the cone employ the scientific principle of convection. As the heat of the flame melts the earwax, it pulls the junk out of your ear the same way a chimney pulls ashes up from a fireplace. The process takes about 10 or 15 minutes per cone, and about two cones per side are needed, so you invest an hour cleaning your ears this way.

Which is why the ear-pickers may have a point -- excuse the pun -- when opt they instead for any "objet du jour" they find to do the job.

About that second tech connection? There's plenty of information on the Web relating to ear candling -- a whopping 9,750 references on Google alone.

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