Today we are going to discuss the effectiveness of yet another approach to the problem of ringing in the ears. Can acupuncture help with tinnitus? Some people believe it works, other say it’s a total fraud, so we’ve decided to gather the latest scientific evidence on this matter to give you an ultimate answer.
First of all, how can you fight an enemy that isn’t real?
In a sense, this is what tinnitus (ringing in the ears) amounts to: hearing sounds that do not exist in reality. This condition is usually tolerated well by most people, but severely impairs the life quality of 1-2% of them. And, believe me, the suffering of these folks is very real, no matter that the sound isn’t.
For them – it is. They are ready to do anything at all just to silence the incessant buzzing, ringing, and hissing in their ears. As a rule, they start with conventional medicine (which often is the very cause of their condition in the first place) and later switch either to the safety of the natural ways to treat tinnitus or to alternative treatments like acupuncture. But is the latter effective at all?
Let’s start with the basics: what is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an essential doctrine of traditional Eastern medicine based on the belief that inserting thin needless into specific spots on a person’s body can prevent, alleviate, and treat diseases.
The theory here is that there is a special form of vital energy called “qi” or “chi” that circulates through the human body via pathways (“meridians”) that are connected to our organs and skin. By inserting needles into specific points on the skin, the acupuncturist can allegedly modify the flow of qi throughout the patient’s body, thus treating or preventing all sorts of health issues.
Acupuncture is considered to be a pseudoscience by many traditional healthcare practitioners (here goes a detailed opinion of one of them), as neither its theory nor practice are based on solid scientific data. Other scientists stick to a more balanced opinion, emphasizing that certain studies show encouraging results even although they may be based on a placebo response.
So, does it work at all?
Yes, it does. And no, it doesn’t.
The scientific evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture is extremely inconsistent, and similar studies often report absolutely different results. Long story short, here are some of the conditions that are most likely treated and/or alleviated by means of acupuncture:
Myofascial pain during temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
Pain after knee arthroplasty
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
Cervical vertigo (dizziness caused by a specific position of the head and neck)
Hot flush and menopause symptoms in women suffering from breast cancer
On the other hand, a massive analysis of Cochrane reviews (sources believed to be especially valuable in terms of evidence-based medicine) revealed that acupuncture is not an effective treatment for more than 20 different conditions including:
Okay, but can acupuncture help with tinnitus?
As you see, the reports on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a doctrine vary, so it’s impossible to be 100% sure of the expected results. Nevertheless, there are certain studies that indicate encouragingly positive effects.
For example, a study published in the beginning of 2017 reported that both manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and periauricular electroacupuncture were able to improve the tinnitus of 39 people aged 20-75 years who had experienced idiopathic (unexplainable) tinnitus for at least 2 weeks.
Another study published in 2016 included 57 patients aged 18-60 years, who were randomly distributed between two equal groups. The first group underwent sessions of true acupuncture, while the second group received sham acupuncture treatment. Subjects from the first group had improved Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI) scores. A similar, but somewhat older study published over a decade ago (in 2006) also stated that acupuncture was effective in relieving tinnitus.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here goes the punchline: a 2012 systematic review of 9 serious randomized clinical trials concluded that there isn’t enough data to definitely affirm whether this method is an effective approach to the treatment of tinnitus. It turns out that even the most substantial studies on the matter had either a relatively small group of subjects, or were designed poorly in terms of statistical analysis.
The bottom line: acupuncture and tinnitus
At the time being there is no ultimate answer to the question whether acupuncture can help with tinnitus in general, as a fundamental approach.
What we can say for sure is that some people experience a huge subjective improvement of their condition after sessions of this treatment, and isn’t that what matters in the end?
After all, the very nature of tinnitus is extremely personal, as if etched into the hapless brain of the affected person. Nobody else hears that ringing. Nobody else is followed by that clicking. Nobody else has to deal with that never-ending sound that just won’t cease. And if so, does it really matter whether a method is “scientifically proved” to be effective, as long as it works in your case?
All in all, when performed properly, acupuncture is a fairly safe method of alternative treatment. The rates of adverse effects and complications range from 0.13% to 11.4% according to different sources, so it’s still important to be careful and alert.
What else can be done to treat tinnitus in a safe and natural way?
It is important to keep in mind that tinnitus is rarely a standalone condition. Instead, it’s very likely to be a symptom of something else, like anemia, ear infections, injuries to the head, and even the result of taking certain drugs that are widely used in the conventional treatment of many diseases (aspirin, for example).
If you want to get rid of your tinnitus once and for all, it is crucial to learn its underlying cause, either on your own or with the assistance of an experienced physician. After that, you can resort to all sorts of natural ways to treat tinnitus, even at your own home!