Acupuncture for Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ear or the head, and affects about 10% of the population. Whilst for some people it is a minor inconvenience, for others it can be a very distressing and disruptive condition, causing insomnia, difficulty concentrating and even depression. Sometimes there is an increased sensitivity to normal sounds so that a TV may seem painfully loud when to other people it is at normal volume. The condition is often worse at quiet times, such as when trying to sleep. Whilst tinnitus often arises in old age, a growing number of younger people are suffering from it, perhaps because of the increasing noisiness of the modern world.
In most cases conventional medicine has no cure for tinnitus and treatment focuses on managing the condition so that it is not too disruptive.
Tinnitus and TCM
The Chinese Medical approach to health is an holistic one, and so a problem like tinnitus is seen within the context of the individual as a whole; and thus treatment is tailored to that individual. Broadly speaking, Chinese Medicine differentiates two different types of tinnitus:
– Tinnitus which is loud, perhaps high-pitched and intermittent, and which began suddenly is usually due to an excess of Qi rushing upwards along some of the meridians which flow through the ear. This can often be stress-related; stress results in a failure of the body’s Qi to flow freely so that we feel ‘uptight’ and tense; eventually the pressure is as it were released by the Qi rushing upwards uncontrollably. In this respect the symptom of tinnitus is not unlike what happens when an old style kettle reaches boiling point—it whistles.
So Chinese Medicine treats this kind of tinnitus by first of all ‘rooting’ the Qi, preventing it from rushing upwards, and by encouraging and restoring the smooth flow of the Qi. Acupuncture is particularly effective in this regard, and we will also discuss with you other ways in which you can help your Qi to flow more freely, perhaps by doing some gentle Chi Kung exercises.
– Tinnitus which comes on gradually, perhaps with old age, and which tends to be low-pitched is due to the opposite problem; there is not enough Qi reaching the ears to enable them to function properly. In this case, treatment aims to nourish the Qi with appropriate acupuncture treatment and perhaps herbal therapy. We will also want to identify why the Qi is insufficient; for example, it may be that the digestive or respiratory systems are not working at optimum efficiency, and since these are both of central importance to our body’s manufacturing of Qi, they may be implicated indirectly in the tinnitus. We would then use acupuncture and maybe herbal therapy to treat this underlying cause of Qi deficiency.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Tinnitus?
A Swedish study1 of 22 patients with severe tinnitus found that acupuncture yielded immediate relief, both in terms of loudness and disturbance of the tinnitus, and in quality of life.
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3 Years ago I suddenly developed very severe Tinnitus and some loss of hearing. It happened in the night and was very frightening. Consequently it triggered several panic attacks and insomnia (which I had never suffered from before). Doctors and specialist both private and NHS gave me numerous tests. They informed me that there was nothing they could do and that I would probably have tinnitus for life. They warned me that my hearing could deteriorate further. They said that they didn’t know what had caused it but suspected it was either a virus (I had a persistent dry cough at the time of the attack) or a side effect of the antibiotics my doctor had given me at that time. I became very depressed as the quality of my life was severely affected. The loud relentless ringing in my ear dominated everything. I became anxious – worried that the tinnitus would get even worse and that I might lose my hearing altogether as the doctors said this was a possibility. I seemed to be in a downward spiral and it was severely affecting both my working and personal life.
The doctors had given up on me but I hadn’t given up on myself so I decided to try acupuncture as I had read that it could help tinnitus and I had found it had helped me many years ago when I suffered with dizziness. I found Sean in Yellow Pages and went to see him. I was extremely impressed. He deliberated my medical history thoroughly and after performing various tests and checking my “chi” (all painless) seemed confident he could help me – not only with the tinnitus, but the insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well. Sean’s philosophy on life is inspiring and his cheerful, positive approach is a tonic. Even after my first visit I felt a lot better.
I found the acupuncture painless and relaxing. Sean also gave me Chinese herbal tablets. After the third treatment I began sleeping normally again much to my amazement as I had been suffering severe insomnia for almost 3 months. I continued with regular treatments and gradually the tinnitus which had been driving me mad, began to lessen. The depression lifted along with the anxiety and panic. I began to feel like my “old” self again. The tinnitus has been reduced by about 75% and it is now only a faint “hum” in the background and the excruciating high pitched ringing has gone. It no longer dominates my life – I fact most of the time I don’t even notice it.. Sean gave me my life back! I will always be grateful to him.
1 Furugard s. et al Acupuncture Worth Trying in Severe Tinnitus Lakartidningen. 1998 Jun 10;95(24):2799.