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Benefits of acupuncture for ear problems?

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

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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