Tinnitus is the perception of ringing or buzzing in your ear, when there is in fact no external sound being produced. One of the most frustrating things about tinnitus is that as of this writing, there is no cure. Over 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus, which is why finding a treatment option that works is of huge importance.
While the cause of tinnitus can be attributed to many factors, it is traditionally a symptom of another condition, like:
- Sudden exposure to a loud sound resulting in acoustic trauma
- Earwax blocking the canal
- Age-related hearing loss
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Ototoxic drugs that have been known to damage the eardrum
Since there is no cure for tinnitus, the first step in reducing it is finding out what the underlying cause is and going from there. Hopefully, addressing the cause will be all you need to find relief. If not, however, there are other options. While there is no evidence that alternative medicine works to reduce tinnitus, some people have found success with acupuncture.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that uses the insertion of needles through the skin at strategic points of the body, traditionally used to treat pain. It has also been used for overall wellness and stress management. In Western medicine, acupuncture is said to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue, which boosts the body’s natural painkillers. In Chinese medicine, it is explained as being a technique that balances the flow of energy within the body (also known as chi or qi) leading to the reduction of pain and stress.
Acupuncture is usually used to help relieve any discomfort or pain associated with a variety of conditions, including:
- Chemotherapy or postoperative nausea
- Headaches and dental pain
- Labor pain
And much more. Though there is no clinical evidence that acupuncture helps with tinnitus, some anecdotal evidence does show that it can help.
What About Acupuncture For Tinnitus?
Again, tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, so finding a treatment option that relieves its symptoms will vary from person to person. Some people have found success with acupuncture for tinnitus. Though, we must stress once more that there is no clinical evidence that supports its efficacy.
One thing we know for certain is that acupuncture does have an effect on blood circulation. Therefore, in cases where the tinnitus is a result of high blood pressure or hypertension, acupuncture can work, though it is not a permanent fix, especially not for chronic cases of tinnitus.
Of all studies that have been conducted, results are varied, but one consistent finding seems to be that acupuncture can reduce the intensity of tinnitus, which can help improve quality of life. A study from 2018 of 88 patients suffering from tinnitus concluded that acupuncture can help tinnitus sound quieter and less severe. However, a review of existing studies done in 2016 found that the existing studies were potentially flawed, and sometimes even biased. Plus, these different studies all used different acupoints, which means accuracy was on the low end, making it extra hard to compare results.
However, all studies showed there is no risk of acupuncture worsening tinnitus, so it may be worth trying if it sounds interesting to you!
Can Acupuncture Really Help With Tinnitus?
Studies regarding how well acupuncture works for tinnitus are varied and inconclusive, but some people have found success with it! A study from 2018 of 88 patients suffering from tinnitus concluded that acupuncture can help tinnitus sound quieter and less severe.
Another study found that after 5 to 10 acupuncture sessions, the loudness and severity of tinnitus decreased significantly, concluding that acupuncture can improve tinnitus in some patients. Another study found that the less severe the tinnitus, the better the results with acupuncture.
There are two important things to note here. One is that everybody is different, and everybody will have different results. The other is that when it comes to holistic medicine like acupuncture, your belief in its success seems to have a big impact on the results. So, if you believe acupuncture can work, want to try it, and it’s safe for you to do so, go for it! But always consult with an audiologist first.
How Does It Work?
It is believed that different acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system. In turn, this causes your body to release different chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, which may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities. Studies in both animals and humans have shown that stimulation of acupuncture points can lead to the brain releasing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins in the central nervous system. These neurotransmitters all have a positive effect on your body:
- Serotonin: helps regulate your mood
- Oxytocin: lowers stress and anxiety
- Endorphins: the body’s natural painkillers create a feeling of well-being
Needles are inserted throughout the body at different focus points depending on what is being targeted, which means you will have needles placed in one pattern for tinnitus, and a different one for stress management. Sometimes, needles will be heated or even have a mild electric current applied to them. Acupuncture needles are hair-thin, which is why most people report no pain as the needle is inserted. However, if an inexperienced person places the needles incorrectly, it can cause pain during treatment.
Every person reacts differently to acupuncture. Some people say acupuncture makes them feel energized, while others find it to have a calming effect.
Which Points Are Used?
Licensed acupuncturists will likely target different points on the body depending on the person they are treating, but there are a few target points that are commonly used for tinnitus. Looking at it from an anatomical perspective, these acupoints are rich in blood vessels and nerves. The points usually used for tinnitus treatment are:
- Ermen (TB21)
- Tinggong (SI19)
- Tinghui (GB2)
- Shangguan (GB3)
- Yindu (KI19)
- Taixi (KI3)
- Fengchi (GB20)
- Yifeng (SJ17)
- Zhongzhu (SJ3)
- Waiguan (SJ5)
- Hegu (LI4)
- Yanglao (SI6)
Since treatment is different for each person, points will vary, and can even change from one acupuncture session to the next. Depending on the cause of the tinnitus, different acupoints will be used. However, as a general rule, most points are located in and around the ears.
Tinnitus Acupuncture: What Does The Research Say?
A number of studies conducted over the years have found that acupuncture can help ease certain types of pain that are usually chronic, like low-back pain, neck pain, or knee pain. It has also been found to reduce the frequency of tension headaches and even prevent migraines. Because of this, acupuncture seems like a viable option for people suffering from chronic tinnitus to consider. But, it must be noted that medical guidelines are inconsistent in their recommendations regarding acupuncture, not to mention the inaccuracies found in most studies.
We are still in the early stages of learning how to measure the effects of acupuncture on the brain and body. In fact, evidence suggests that certain factors, like expectation and belief, may play a big role in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain. In addition, because pain is so subjective, it can be difficult to quantify, even with the most detailed of surveys.
One study has shown that tinnitus loudness was reduced significantly after 5 to 10 sessions of acupuncture treatment, though the number of participants in the study was very small. Another study found that in combination with different herbal medicines, acupuncture helped relieve tinnitus for close to 6 months. Again, the sample size was small for this study.
The one thing we know for certain is that more studies are needed to find out whether or not acupuncture is truly effective.
Is It Safe To Try?
The good news is, if the acupuncture is performed by an experienced, well-trained, and licensed practitioner using sterile needles, then it is considered safe. Nowadays, it is standard to use single-use needles, so the risk of infection is minimal. The biggest risk lies in working with someone who is inexperienced. Common side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted.
Like with most health treatments, do your research! If possible, ask your friends or audiologist for a recommendation, as that will reduce the chances of you working with someone who could unintentionally cause you harm. More importantly, acupuncture is safe ao long as you don’t have any underlying conditions that may put you at risk. The conditions that could lead to complications are bleeding disorders, having a pacemaker, or being pregnant.
Remember, acupuncture is not a cure, simply a way to address the discomfort you’re feeling. If you are curious about trying acupuncture, be sure to talk to your audiologist first. Starting any new treatment requires attention, and getting guidance from a professional is the first step in ensuring your safety.
Is Acupuncture Right For Me?
For the most part, acupuncture could be right for you, provided you don’t have any underlying conditions that may put you at risk. There is a risk of complications with acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder, a pacemaker, or are pregnant.
If you have a bleeding disorder, the risk of bleeding or bruising from the needles increases, especially if you are taking blood thinners. Since acupuncture can involve mild electrical pulses, it could interfere with the pacemaker’s functioning. And since some acupuncture is thought to induce labor, there is the risk of premature delivery. If you have any of these conditions, then unfortunately acupuncture should not be tried, as the benefits do not outweigh the risks.
How Can I Try Acupuncture?
Trying acupuncture isn’t hard at all! Once you have consulted with an audiologist and have been given the OK to try it, then your first step is to find an acupuncture center you can trust. Ask your audiologist for a recommendation, and if they don’t have one, do your research. You want to be sure to find a place that is reputable, that only works with licensed acupuncturists, and that displays the highest level of hygiene. If possible, try and schedule time with an experienced provider so you’re in the most capable hands.
There isn’t much you need to do to “prepare” for acupuncture, but there are a few things you can do to get the most out of your treatment. These include:
- Eat before your session and avoid greasy foods or stimulants
- Since acupuncture affects your blood flow, you want to have a healthy and strong flow. Acupuncture works by increasing the production of adenosine, a chemical compound that helps you relax. Stimulants like caffeine can block that, resulting in a less effective session.
- Plan out the entire treatment day
- If possible, plan for less strenuous activities after your treatment, so that the ongoing effects of acupuncture can keep helping you throughout the day.
- Turn off your phone
- To make the most of the acupuncture session, it’s best to have as few distractions as possible. Even just hearing your phone vibrating in your coat across the room will be a distraction and can take away from the relaxing effects.
- Schedule acupuncture strategically
- Acupuncture is not a one-and-done routine, be sure to plan a few sessions at a regular schedule, maybe twice a week at first. Your acupuncturist will be able to advise you on what’s best for your needs.
Can Acupuncture Help With Hearing Loss?
While it would be great to say with certainty that acupuncture can cure hearing loss, that simply isn’t the case. However, through a review of past trials, it was found that acupuncture can improve hearing for those patients experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, especially when combined with medication. This review found that:
- When compared with conventional medicine, acupuncture helped improve hearing.
- When compared with Chinese herbal treatment, acupuncture helped improve hearing.
- Acupuncture plus conventional western medicine was found to be more effective than western medicine alone.
- The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine was more effective than Chinese herbal medicine alone.
However, the review also found that the studies were inconsistent, and potentially not trustworthy. The issues were:
- Sample size was too small
- Safety data was unacceptable
- It is difficult to tell if results were due to acupuncture, other treatments, placebo effect, or a combination
Since there isn’t enough research on the topic, it’s difficult to say definitively whether or not acupuncture can help with hearing loss. Of course, more studies are needed to determine whether or not acupuncture is truly effective for addressing hearing loss.
Should I Try Acupuncture For Sudden Hearing Loss?
Treating sudden hearing loss can be a little tricky, and the effectiveness of acupuncture is difficult to prove. A 2006 study found that two-thirds of patients who received acupuncture to treat sudden hearing loss experienced a “therapeutic effect,” but this study had some limitations. For starters there was no control group to compare results to, and more importantly, sudden hearing loss can sometimes resolve on its own, so there’s no way to know for certain whether it was the acupuncture or not that had an effect. Scientists did conclude, however, that acupuncture may be more effective for those suffering with mild hearing loss.
If you are suffering from sudden hearing loss, the first step should always be to see your audiologist as soon as possible. Seeking medical care immediately is the most important step you can take to protect yourself.The sooner you address it, the better your chances of regaining your hearing in a safe and effective manner.
After meeting with your audiologist, ask them about acupuncture and whether they recommend it, and go from there.
Tinnitus Acupuncture: The Bottom Line
Tinnitus is elusive and exceedingly frustrating for many people around the world. While research is ongoing, those suffering from tinnitus have a desperate need to address it in whatever way they can. At the end of the day, anything that makes the impact of tinnitus less severe is welcome, and for some people, that can be acupuncture.
As of this writing, research is showing some promising results with acupuncture in its ability to decrease the impact of tinnitus. If acupuncture doesn’t present a risk to you (if you don’t have a bleeding disorder, a pacemaker, or are pregnant), then it is a viable alternative therapy option to at least try out! Although individual results are often mixed, many recent studies have shown acupuncture may decrease the intensity of tinnitus while boosting quality of life. Plus, acupuncture has not been shown to have a negative effect on tinnitus, so it’s worth trying out.
Before deciding to try acupuncture, be sure to visit with an audiologist. With that consultation, you can arm yourself with all the information you need to make sure you’re doing all you can to help bring you tinnitus relief.