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Ask an expert - body - head - ear

21 questions

Q:  Do you know of doctors in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, who use acupuncture to treat severe tinnitus? Also has seizure-like events been known to accompany tinnitus or has been caused by it? My daughter, born with a profound hearing loss in 1969, has lived with chronic pain since 1999 and tinnitus since 2012 with little relief. Any information you can provide will be helpful and appreciated. We are at a loss as to how to help her.

A:  We are sorry to say that we are not really aware of who works in Las Vegas, our reach being somewhat limited, and we certainly have not heard of any dramatic breakthroughs in the treatment of tinnitus. We are absolutely sure that had there been a serious development in the treatment of this chronic debilitating condition news would have travelled very quickly. When some acupuncture practitioners claimed to have a treatment for macular degeneration it sparked a whole host of questions across the globe.

We tend to be very conservative in the advice we give about tinnitus. One recent response said:

We used to be a great deal more downbeat about the treatment of tinnitus than we are now because our experience in practice was that it could prove intractable to treatment. However, as our factsheet shows

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/tinnitus.html

and as some recent personal experience in clinic has shown too, there may be some hope. 

The problem with measuring the success of treatment for tinnitus is that its appearance and disappearance can be entirely random. If you read the tinnitus association's magazine you will see stories along the lines of 'I tried everything and then x worked' and an equal number of stories which say 'I had tinnitus for five years and then one day it just went.'  Research trials tend to be quite reliable - it would be a remarkable coincidence if half the trial participants experienced a spontaneous improvement - but one-off cases could be a coincidence, with acupuncture just happening to be the therapy of choice when the change happened.

The available evidence, however, suggests that it might be worth a try with the proviso that progress is reviewed at regular intervals, and some kind of objective measure can be found, i.e. how much it interferes with a radio set at a particular level. It might also repay investigation of what makes it worse and what makes it better. A long n-1 case study this expert conducted had very little impact on the condition but did increase the sufferer's ability to deal with it.

The best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and your wife for an informal face to face assessment of what may be possible. There are one or two clearly recognisable syndromes within Chinese medicine which might offer considerable confidence that muting the problem may be possible, but even a general balancing of the system may bear fruit.

As for links between epileptic seizures and tinnitus there are a number of scientific studies which speak of a patho-physiological similarity in the two problems, and there is well document evidence of epilepsy affecting the vestibular apparatus which may well have an impact on the auditory ability of the body. We are acupuncturists first and foremost, though, not medical practitioners in the conventional sense, so we would have to say that we are not the best placed to answer your questions on this.

There is no doubt, though, that acupuncture has a long history of being used for pain relief, much of which was provoked by interest after Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s. That acupuncture treatment can have an effect on the release of the body's natural painkillers like endorphins and enkephalins is not in doubt. The main concern is how much pain relief and how sustainable it is. This can often be a delicate balance between outcome and cost, but it is always worth trying.

That's about the best that we can say. Our members tend to offer people brief face to face assessments which enable them to give a slightly better insight into what might be possible, and this seems to us the best way forward. Looking at things through the perspective of Chinese medicine can sometimes open up new lines of treatment which can in some cases provide unexpected relief.

Q:  My wife has a ringing in her ears which is said to be tinnitus, I recently read of a lady who after many years of suffering this affliction was cured by acupuncture. Could this be true ? 

A:  We used to be a great deal more downbeat about the treatment of tinnitus than we are now because our experience in practice was that it could prove intractable to treatment. However, as our factsheet shows

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/tinnitus.html

and as some recent personal experience in clinic has shown too, there may be some hope. 

The problem with measuring the success of treatment for tinnitus is that its appearance and disappearance can be entirely random. If you read the tinnitus association's magazine you will see stories along the lines of 'I tried everything and then x worked' and an equal number of stories which say 'I had tinnitus for five years and then one day it just went.'  Research trials tend to be quite reliable - it would be a remarkable coincidence if half the trial participants experienced a spontaneous improvement - but one-off cases could be a coincidence, with acupuncture just happening to be the therapy of choice when the change happened.

The available evidence, however, suggests that it might be worth a try with the proviso that progress is reviewed at regular intervals, and some kind of objective measure can be found, i.e. how much it interferes with a radio set at a particular level. It might also repay investigation of what makes it worse and what makes it better. A long n-1 case study this expert conducted had very little impact on the condition but did increase the sufferer's ability to deal with it.

The best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and your wife for an informal face to face assessment of what may be possible. There are one or two clearly recognisable syndromes within Chinese medicine which might offer considerable confidence that muting the problem may be possible, but even a general balancing of the system may bear fruit.


Q  Can an earring on the acupuncture point in the ear lobe help symptoms of travel sickness and mild vertigo. As in labrynthitis of the ear. 

Strange to say, but ear acupuncture is not really within our scope of practice. Although some of our colleagues do use it ear acupuncture is really a more modern European invention, drawing on ancient Chinese traditions but using them in a very 20th century way. The idea of using specific points for specific disorders is not normally how we practise acupuncture, where the same named condition can be treated in dozens of ways as the practitioner aims to treat the person, not the disease or symptom. Many practitioners, however, can and do use specific points for detox acupuncture, helping people to stop cigarettes, drink or drugs, or for general calming.

Ear acupuncture is what we call microsystem acupuncture, where the whole body is treated through one part. As well as ear acupuncture you will also find hand acupuncture, su dok, a Korean development, and there are a number of other systems too. For more information, you can contact the organisation which regulates many of these bodies, the CNHC at http://www.cnhc.org.uk/index.cfm?page_ID=103&disciplineID=13&d=microsystems-acupuncture.

We are bound to say that treating any of these disorders - vertigo, labyrinthitis or travel sickness - is in our view better when done within the context of treating the whole person. We have a number of factsheets on conditions like these

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/vertigo.html

although the research, for a number of reasons, is not sufficient for us to lay claim to efficacy. Having said that we all have treated many cases of these and related conditions, and in the main have enjoyed quite a deal of success, whether full remission or a better management of the problem.

In summary, though, if you are looking for a symptomatic relief for specific situations where these conditions are a problem, but where they are not a problem for most of your time, than a microsystems practitioner might well be a good option. If, however, you are looking to deal with the problem on a more permanent basis, then  it may well be worth trying traditional acupuncture. The best thing to do would be to contact a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment, hopefully without charge, to assess whether traditional acupuncture would be a suitable treatment.


 

Q: I have an inner ear problem that is causing loss of balance and vertigo will acupuncure help and how long until I can expect a result?

A:  We have been asked a number of times about balance problems and a typical answer was/is:

A great deal depends on what accompanies the balance problem, or indeed whether it is a stand-alone problem.
 
There are a number of conditions like Meniere's disease, vertigo, labyrinthitis and so on, where changes in the structure or infections in the inner ear area can cause significant balance problems as well as generating other symptoms like nausea and headaches. Because there is no precise overlap between the classifications of conventional medicine and Chinese medicine, there may be many different ways of treating the same named condition depending on what else a practitioner finds to be out of kilter in a system. This means that it can be quite easy on occasion to identify a group of signs and symptoms which are likely to be amenable to treatment and which enable one to treat with confidence. On other occasions it can be very unclear, and when this happens we have to rely on the very basic premise of Chinese medicine, that if the energy ('qi') of the body is balanced and free-flowing, then symptoms will resolve through the body's capacity to heal itself.
 
There is a fair measure of evidence for a number of balance related problems, as our factsheet shows:
 

 http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/vertigo.html

 
but we would have to admit that many of the trials which do report success are not conducted by using Chinese medicine as it is practised, and while we would contend that the personalisation of treatment to the unique individual is a far stronger treatment than a treatment repeated formulaically several times, that is the basis on which most research is conducted to meet the current 'gold standard.' One trial of this kind
 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19606509

 
generated some very interesting results, but the formula applied would not be appropriate for everyone.
 
For a generic problem such as this which might present against a vast range of contexts there is no substitute for visiting a BAcC member local to you to ask for a brief face to face assessment of the potential benefits of treatment. This will enable them to give you a far better informed view than we can do at a distance

We think this is about the best that we can say. When patients come to us the first thing we establish is what exactly is wrong with the inner ear. There are a number of physiological changes to the ear which can mean that conditions like this have to be regarded as permanent, so a practitioner will first want to assess whether this is something which is even amenable to treatment - there's no point in wasting time and money on something which isn't going to work.

As far as how long the treatment lasts is concerned, this is the proverbial piece of string. We always aim to treat the overall picture, not simply the symptom as it presents itself, because we believe that doing only symptomatic treatment is like turning off an alarm bell because you don't like the noise. If we treat the whole system, and the treatment is successful, there is no reason why someone who looks after themselves shouldn't remain relatively symptom free. In reality this tends to be a little less likely than a case where someone will experience some positive change which they have to 'top up' from time to time.

What we always aim to do, though, is to review progress after four or five sessions, and if there is no obvious sign of improvement to draw a sharp line in the sand before committing someone to what may turn out to be a long, fruitless and expensive process.

However, as we said before ,the best thing to do is to arrange to visit a BAcC member for an informal chat about what may be possible. 

Q:  I have recently recovered from endocarditis, and having been treated with gentamicin have been left with bilateral vestibulopathy. I am wondering whether acupuncture would be effective in this case.

A:  From a western medical perspective we would have to say that the damage caused by the effects of gentamicin can lead to permanent problems, although the website of one of the major American organisations for hearing loss offers a rather more encouraging picture than most:

This is a condition that realistically often causes some permanent disability. In patients with gentamicin-induced ototoxicity, the symptoms generally peak at three months
from the last dose of gentamicin. In the long run however, (five years), most patients become substantially better. There are multiple reasons why people get
better. First, there is evidence that the damaged vestibular hair cells in the inner ear can regenerate, although the extent to which this occurs and the degree to which they are functional is not presently clear (Staecker et al., 2011; Forge et al, 1993)). Some recovery presumably occurs because marginal hair cells recover, because the brain rewires itself to adapt to the new situation (plasticity), and because people change the way they do things to adjust to their situation.

The majority of websites, however, are not usually as optimistic, and there is more often than not a touch of 'when it's gone, it's gone' about their prognostications.

From a Chinese medicine perspective we have to be careful not to engender a sense of false optimism. If there has been proven physical damage to the nerve structures of the inner ear there is not a great deal that acupuncture can achieve. The evidence for the regeneration of nerves with the help of acupuncture is not good except for a few trials with experimental animals (what our colleagues call 'ratpuncture'), and we have to be realistic. However, there are a number of ways in which balance can be affected in Chinese medicine terms, and if there has been a pathological change in the flow of energy in the area, whether brought about by a change in the area or by a
functional change in the whole system which has generated this particular symptom, then there may be some cause for cautious optimism that acupuncture
treatment might have a small impact on the problem. If there is a feasibility that some of the vestibular apparatus can regenerate, then anything which encourages the system as a whole to work better may help in this process.

On that basis there would be no reason not to visit a BAcC member local to you for a slightly more considered view than we can offer from a distance, and they may well be able to identify areas or patterns of weakness, the correction of which may help you to recover to a degree. What we would say, though, is that we would be surprised if the recovery was complete, and our own understanding is that positive change might take a considerable amount of time. This always makes it difficult because it is very difficult to set down good outcome measures which can take into account 5% change. One of our esteemed Japanese colleagues once memorably said that if a patient tells
you they are 10% better they are just saying 'you're a nice person, keep trying.' Her view was that anything less than 25% was difficult to judge. We would recommend, therefore, that if you did see a BAcC member who thought that treatment might help, it would be really important to set regular review periods and to try very hard to find a clearly defined outcome marker to get a sense of what progress, if any, was being made. Can acupunctu

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