Ask an expert - body - head - ear

27 questions

We have been asked many times about tinnitus, and our most recent reply has been:

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 showshttp://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/tinnitus.htmland 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  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.
Invariably we check for more evidence when we are asked a question to which we have responded before, and the evidence trail for the fact sheet stops some time ago. We found a number of small studies like this onehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26747258which seem on the face of it to encourage the belief that there is a recognised connection between acupuncture treatment and symptom relief. There is also a systematic review, a 'trial of all trials' beloved of researchers because it aggregates to a much more powerful study than the individual ones.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493359/This draws the usual sorts of conclusion about the need for more and better trials, but the authors do conclude that acupuncture is worth trying as a safe alternative which seemed to have shown some success in addressing the problem.The advice we gave before, though, holds good. Each case is unique and different, as is each treatment plan, and the best advice you can get will always come from someone who can see your problem in its overall context.So, in answer to your question, there is some evidence that acupuncture treatment may help tinnitus, but not yet enough for us to say with any certainty that a result is guaranteed.As far as specialists are concerned, by its very nature Chinese medicine is generalist. Indeed in ancient China specialists were regarded as decidedly inferior because they only treated single conditions. From the Chinese medicine perspective it is the patient who has the problem, not the problem which is the primary focus. Each manifestation of a problem is unique and different, and twenty people with the same named problem might be treated in twenty different ways.On this basis we are happy to recommend any of our members to offer the same exemplary level of care, and using the postcode search on our home page www.acupuncture.org.uk will direct you to the geographically closest.

Q: Does acupuncture help in the treatment of tinnitus associated with severe Menieres Disease? It has left me totally deaf. I have had successful acupuncture before for arthritis and muscle strains.

A: We have been asked about Meniere's Disease on a number of occasions, and a typical answer has been:

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 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, this latter is the basis on which most research is conducted to meet the current 'gold standard.' One trial of this kind, for example,

 
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.

We believe that this still covers most of the ground pretty well. We have undertaken a survey of more recent research and there is a paper
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26055400

which gives a guarded but generally positive view of the value of acupuncture treatment for these types of cases.

This doesn't mention tinnitus directly, although the studies often mention tinnitus and deafness as a part of the constellation of symptoms, and where the deafness accompanies balance problems there is often an all-round improvement.

We have had a further look at papers which directly refer to hearing loss and tinnitus, and we found this one

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980515/

which concludes that balance problems can be helped but not hearing problems. However, the selfsame reason why the authors qualify positive statements about balance - small trials, poor methodology - are the ones which they cite to not write off acupuncture for hearing problems too quickly.

We used to be quite downbeat about tinnitus treatment, but as a recent answer said:

Our experience in practice was that tinnitus 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  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.


Invariably we check for more evidence when we are asked a question to which we have responded before, and the evidence trail for the fact sheet stops some time ago. We found a number of small studies like this one

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26747258

which seem on the face of it to encourage the belief that there is a recognised connection between acupuncture treatment and symptom relief. There is also a systematic review, a 'trial of all trials' beloved of researchers because it aggregates to a much more powerful study than the individual ones.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493359/

This draws the usual sorts of conclusion about the need for more and better trials, but the authors do conclude that acupuncture is worth trying as a safe alternative which seemed to have shown some success in addressing the problem.

The advice we gave before, though, holds good. Each case is unique and different, as is each treatment plan, and the best advice you can get will always come from someone who can see your problem in its overall context.

Q: My son who is 14 has had Labyrinthitis for two weeks and slowly recovering. His dizzy spells are reducing but he still haves some vertigo.
Is it possible that Acupuncture could help?.
He is one of the countrys top bmx racers in his age group and due to race in the World championships
in the USE at the end of July. At the moment we are very worried he may not be able to compete.
Your early reply would be most appreciated.

A: We are sorry to hear of your son's predicament. We have a factsheet on our website

https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/2599-vertigo.html

which gives a fair bit of evidence for trials which are very encouraging about the use of acupuncture for a variety of balance problems. We quoted this some time ago in an answer about the generic problems of the inner ear, in which we said:

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 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, this latter is the basis on which most research is conducted to meet the current 'gold standard.' One trial of this kind, for example,

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.

We believe that this still covers most of the ground pretty well. We have undertaken a survey of more recent research and there are a couple of papers

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26055400

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26055400

which give a guarded but generally positive view of the value of acupuncture treatment for these types of cases.

There is plenty of time between now and your son's championship for acupuncture to take effect, if it is going to work. Even if it didn't do as much as we expect it could, there are other options which you might want to explore. Amongst the more promising is cranial osteopathy, which can often offer help for problems where a small but significant shift in the subtle structure of the skull could have an impact on balance. We would assume that as a serious BMXer your son is used to the odd tumble, and it may well be that a succession of these have contributed to the problem.

Whatever option you choose to pursue we are confident that the network of practitioners in your area will be able to point you towards whatever help will best suit your son.

And if he/you do choose acupuncture and he wins, we'd love a namecheck!

 

 

Q: Is Accupuncture beneficial in the treatment of Tinnitus?

A: 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  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.


Invariably we check for more evidence when we are asked a question to which we have responded before, and the evidence trail for the fact sheet stops some time ago. We found a number of small studies like this one

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26747258

which seem on the face of it to encourage the belief that there is a recognised connection between acupuncture treatment and symptom relief. There is also a systematic review, a 'trial of all trials' beloved of researchers because it aggregates to a much more powerful study than the individual ones.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493359/

This draws the usual sorts of conclusion about the need for more and better trials, but the authors do conclude that acupuncture is worth trying as a safe alternative which seemed to have shown some success in addressing the problem.

The advice we gave before, though, holds good. Each case is unique and different, as is each treatment plan, and the best advice you can get will always come from someone who can see your problem in its overall context.

Q:  My husband has been told that his eustachian tube in his ear remains open when it should be closed would he benefit from acupuncture?

A:  We have spent some time researching your question about Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET) because we have to be honest and say that it is not a frequently presented problem. We have found no studies of its treatment with acupuncture, although we have no doubt that they exist in China. The problem is that only a very small percentage of studies are translated, and these are usually for the 'headline' named conditions, back pain, headaches, and so on.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, any failure of function should theoretically be amenable to treatment unless there has been a physical change in the structure of the body which it would be unrealistic to see reversed. As we understand it PET can range from a birth defect often found in people with Downs through to a shorter term problem generated by excessive weight loss and consequent loss of fat in the tissues of the Eustachian tubes. Depending on the putative cause treatment aimed at establishing the overall balance of the body may have a chance of restoring function to a degree. A practitioner might also be interested to see whether there are any local blockages in the flow of energy set against a general backdrop of energetic weakness which might have caused the condition to appear or worsen.

Generally, however, with conditions such as this there are fewer guarantees than usual, and we always recommend that treatment undertaken in a 'let's see' mode is carefully monitored. It is always worth trying acupuncture treatment because we have seen unexpectedly good results on occasion for conditions like this, but we have also seen situations where someone has had a course of twenty sessions with no change, and this can often lead to dissatisfaction. Regular review periods are essential.

The one small ray of hope is that there was some excitement about the use of a Chinese herb Jia-Wei-Gui-Pi-Tang following a Japanese study found here

http://web1.incl.ne.jp/ishikawa/PET/art1.html

which achieved some remarkable results in some patients, although the study itself was terminated because of adverse effects on other patients. We are not Chinese herbalists, but a small proportion of our membership are jointly members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) and it may well be that if you can find a dual-registered practitioner near you, they might be able to offer you a very good assessment of what is possible by using a combination of acupuncture and herbs. There is also an association of mainly Chinese practitioners, the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, whose members all use acupuncture and herbs. Most members of all these associations are usually happy to give up a small amount of time to see someone briefly in order to assess whether treatment may be beneficial. This will enable a slightly more in-depth view than we are able to offer at this level of generality.

 

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