The use of needles to cure tinnitus may seem crazy, but for many it is a great treatment method and a good way of controlling the condition. Of course, the Chinese medicine method is not simply just about needles. It can help to treat the root causes of the condition and not just the symptoms.
Tinnitus can be defined as hearing sounds or phantom noises within the body instead of from an outside source. We will all experience a form of tinnitus in our lifetime like the ringing in our ears after a loud concert. Around 10% of the population are affected by persistent tinnitus. For approximately 1% of the population their tinnitus is so severe that it affects their overall quality of life.
In his memoirs, artist Michelangelo wrote about how he was ‘plagued by the incessant chirping of crickets’. His rival Leonardo Da Vinci had tinnitus too. The noise can be described as buzzing, whistling, humming and hissing, although it is often described as a ‘ringing in the ears’.
Tinnitus is common but poorly understood disorder. Researchers are still unsure of the brain’s overall involvement. There are treatment methods available to help you cope with the symptoms of tinnitus. Complementary medicine has been widely used and acupuncture is a common and popular alternative.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into the body for therapeutic reasons. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that everyone has a fundamental life force running through their body known as “qi” or simply just energy. This energy runs through many pathways or “meridians” in the body to help operate its many functions. When these energy pathways become imbalanced or blocked this can result in illness or pain. The needles used in the practice of acupuncture are believed to correct these imbalances and restore the natural flow of energy to initiate the healing process.
In Chinese medicine, tinnitus can be defined as either an excess or deficiency type. The excess type can be made worse by periods of anger or anxiety and may be related to inflammation of the liver and the gallbladder. Whereas, deficiency related tinnitus is often linked with kidney or liver deficiency which can prevent sustenance from reaching and aiding the ears.
Several studies have shown acupuncture to be a successful alternative to improving tinnitus. You may be thinking ‘but acupuncture is for the relief of pain, right?’ and you would be correct. But tinnitus also causes negative sensory experiences which can impact on your emotions, just like pain. Acupuncture causes an electrical charge to trigger action potentials, rebalancing the neurophysiological system and helping to calm the noise.
Tinnitus can present itself in different ways and this can make treatment challenging. However, Chinese medicine is a promising method in some individuals, even if scientific data is lacking. In one study, the use of acupuncture was shown to improve transient otoacoustic emissions (TOAE) or sounds which are randomly generated in the normal cochlea or are generated in response to an acoustic stimulation. According to the theory of traditional Asian medicine, tinnitus is directly linked with the yin-yang imbalance of organs such as the kidneys and gallbladder because channels which begin in these internal organs flow through the ear.
A further study carried out in Sichuan, China showed that the use of electrical stimulation at various acupuncture points achieved good outcomes and increased clinical effectiveness of the technique in acupuncture treatment by just over a quarter. The use of conventional acupuncture achieved an effective rate of 64.5 %, while electroacupuncture – small electric current is passed between pairs of acupuncture needles – achieved a success rate of 89.6% overall.
Scrolling through the internet, it is clear that there is a divided opinion on the use of acupuncture to treat tinnitus. However, in many cases, it seems relief may not be felt until after 10-15 sessions. If this form of complementary medicine is something you choose, then perseverance may be key to its success. Like most things in life, individual reactions to acupuncture can differ, its relief may be temporary or permanent, it may work straight away, or it may take several sessions. However, as a form of complementary medicine, many have found the procedure to be a relaxing and positive experience, which alone can be very beneficial for tinnitus sufferers.