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Can acupuncture help tinnitus?

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

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.

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