By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
How do I stop ringing in my ears? Why do I have ringing in one ear sometimes, ringing in the left ear or ringing in the right ear? Constant ringing in ears can impact the ability to work, sleep, and live life normally. The fear that you may be going deaf or never be able to shake that humming in ears can even cause depression. Can acupuncture help ringing in the ears? The good news is: yes, it can!
We’ve all experienced that annoying buzzing in ear and temporary hear loss at some point, probably after a loud music concert or working with power tools. But ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, that persists long term may be a sign of other health problems.
What is tinnitus? When you seek advice from your doctor, he/she will explain it in detail. Tinnitus is the medical term for the perception of a buzzing sound or ringing in the ears, which might be intermittent or persistent. The sense of humming in the ears or ringing in one ear is common; roughly a third of the population has experienced it at some point in their lives. Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for reducing the volume and insistence of tinnitus symptoms.
Constant ringing in the ears is not really considered a medical condition in and of itself; tinnitus is caused by other underlying problems. Hear loss and the perception of sounds that other people can’t hear, sometimes more like a clicking or hissing, may be due to some malfunction of the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the parts of the brain that perceive sounds.
Tinnitus is correlated with chronic stress. Many military veterans suffer from tinnitus due to the frequent very loud, explosive noises they are exposed to during training and combat. Depending on the severity, ringing in the ears can seriously impact a person’s ability to function. Is tinnitus curable? Modern medical science does not have a definitive solution. It may be worthwhile to seek out alternative methods to treat ringing in right ear or ringing in left ear. Acupuncture treatment can help ringing in the ears to fade.
Top 10 Causes of Ringing in the Ears
Most people who suffer from high pitched ringing in ears have experienced some damage to the cochlea, the sensitive cells of the inner ear, because of loud sounds. When a person is exposed to very loud noises over a long period of time, permanent damage to the inner ear can occur. But ringing in ears causes can include several other medical conditions.
The main tinnitus causes are:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises
- Head or neck injuries, such as whiplash
- TMJ that irritates the auditory nerve
- Circulatory problems like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
- Meniere’s disease (a syndrome marked by tinnitus, vertigo, deafness, and a sensation of the ears being clogged)
- Age-induced hearing loss (deaf)
- Infection in the ear
- Overproduction of earwax
- Foreign object obstructing the ear canal
- Congestion of the head and nose due to cold, flu or sinus infection
Certain medications can cause ototoxicity, which damages the sensitive cochlea of the inner ear. Ototox damage can be caused by chemotherapy or by some antibiotics. Loss of balance and the ability to hear sounds with high frequencies are other signs of ototoxicity. Complications of shingles, or herpes zoster infection, can also cause tinnitus and hearing loss.
Conventional Tinnitus Remedies
Currently there is no medical tinnitus cure. Mild cases of ringing in the ears due to head congestion or a brief exposure to loud noises will likely resolve themselves in time. Tinnitus caused by something blocking the ear canal, such as excess earwax, buildup of dirt or hair, a small object or even simple head congestion can be cleared up by removing the blockage.
If the symptom of ringing in the ears is determined to be caused by a mechanical problem (like TMJ), trauma, or injury, then that must be healed in order to resolve the tinnitus.
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists may treat tinnitus with vasodilator drugs, which dilate the blood vessels in the ear in the hopes that increased blood flow will help heal damaged cells. Unfortunately, these medications for tinnitus can have some negative side effects, including heart palpitations, headaches, lethargy and anxiety in some patients. Injections or intravenous application of lidocaine to the inner ear has been used as a remedy, but this treatment has also caused side effects such as vertigo and nausea, and in some patients, it worsened their tinnitus. Lidocaine itself may cause ototoxicity, and therefore increase the chances of hearing loss.
People with a persistent problem of both hearing loss and ringing in right ear are often recommended hearing aids, which help to increase the volume of external sounds, so that the perception of internal noises is reduced. In other cases, people may use electronic sound-masking devices that create ambient “white noise” to help cancel out the sound of humming or ringing in left ear.
Sometimes people are referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people learn to cope with the condition. Tinnitus retaining therapy (TRT) is specifically designed to help people learn to ignore the constant background noise through habituation. Often people are prescribed psychiatric medications for depression and anxiety to help them sleep better and feel less distressed by the sensation of constant ringing in ears.
Ringing in the ears that persists over time can and should be addressed with alternative therapies if these methods are not improving a person’s quality of life.
Does Acupuncture Help Ringing in the Ears?
Tinnitus is believed to be related to the somatosensory nervous system, which gathers signals from the sensory organs of the head and face and communicates them to the brain. When neck or head trauma, circulatory problems, nerve damage, dental work, or other events cause damage to the auditory nerves or the cochlea of the inner ear, signals can begin to misfire. Hyperactive firing of the auditory nerves can lead to the “phantom sounds” of tinnitus.
According to TCM theory, problems such as tinnitus are caused by imbalances of the energies of the body. Sometimes there is excessive energy or heat arising in one organ system, and/or a deficiency of energy or blood flow in other organ systems. In TCM, we would usually consider ringing in the ears to be related to one of the following differentiations:
- Excessive, rising liver heat
- Excessive liver and gallbladder heat
- Phlegm-fire stagnation
- Kidney essence deficiency
- Blood-Qi deficiency
Often patients demonstrate a combination of two or more of these excesses and/or deficiencies. Excessive conditions tend to show irritability, headaches, and dizziness. The ringing in the ears is loud, and comes on suddenly. With deficient conditions, the onset of the noise is low, more like a whooshing or humming that comes and goes, and may be accompanied by poor memory and focus.
After listening carefully to learn exactly how the patient’s symptoms are presenting, an acupuncture practitioner will use a specific combination of acupoints at each session to dispel blockages and bring the energies into harmony. Acupuncture treatment works on tinnitus by improving blood flow to the affected areas, helping to promote regeneration of nerve tissues, calming anxiety, reducing the effects of chronic stress, and improving sleep.
TCM uses herbal formulae to support the work of the acupuncture treatment. For tinnitus, the TCM practitioner will choose herbs to help boost circulation of blood and Qi, clear heat in the liver, strengthen the kidneys, and calm the mind.
One study showed that patients receiving acupuncture treatments reported a significant reduction in the severity and loudness of ringing in the ears when compared with patients being given a placebo treatment.
Another study at a hospital in China showed that treatment led to a marked improvement of overall hearing capability, reduced loud ringing in ears, and reduced depression.
Tinnitus that is caused by mechanical problems such as TMJ or a whiplash injury to the neck can also be helped by acupuncture treatment by focusing on reducing inflammation and pain in those areas that are impacting the auditory nerves.
Top 3 Tips for Self Care of Ringing in the Ears
If you are suffering from tinnitus or mild deafness, it is important to make some lifestyle modifications so that you can get past the sensation of humming in ears.
- Cut out caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. It is well known that these chemicals contribute to tinnitus.
- Protect your hearing. When going to a loud concert or using power tools, wear ear plugs.
- Reduce stress and make rest a priority. Chronic stress leads to many health problems, and ringing in the ears is another sign that you may need to focus more on exercise, meditation, mindfulness, and quality time devoted to relaxing the mind and body.
Acupuncture Near Me for Ringing in the Ears
If you or someone you know is suffering from constant ringing in the ears, please see your doctor to have your hearing checked, as well as screening for any cardiovascular, thyroid, or other potential problems impacting your hearing. If conventional treatments do not bring relief of tinnitus symptoms, then we encourage you to call us at Art of Wellness and try an alternative approach to tinnitus remedies.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.