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.

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.

Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts