You probably didn’t know when you asked the question “can acupuncture help tinnitus,” that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the subject. Anecdotal evidence indicates that it is effective, but the scientific evidence does not yet support this claim. Some scientific evidence points to its efficacy while other evidence disputes it. There is even research that has analyzed the research.
Acupuncture has long been a treatment for tinnitus in Eastern countries such as China and Korea but has yet to become a professionally accepted treatment in Western medicine due to the lack of research and positive outcome supporting evidence.
There is research on the subject. The problem is, there is very little of it, and what research there is shows dramatically inconsistent results. Recognizing this problem, in July of 2000, researchers from the University of Exeter in England set out to analyze all of the current data and to summarize all available rigorous trials on the subject. What they found was “an embarrassing lack of research activity”. There were only 11 studies that included clinical trials, and of those, 5 of them were not randomized. Of the 6 remaining, 2 concluded that acupuncture was efficacious as a treatment for tinnitus, while 4 concluded it was not. Five of the six studies used inconsistent acupoints. Because of the lack of consistency, the researchers concluded that acupuncture “has not been demonstrated to be efficacious as a treatment for tinnitus.” [Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg]
The researchers suggested that their findings indicated that any benefit that acupuncture may have on successfully treating tinnitus is caused by nonspecific effects such as expectation and suggestion, rather than a specific effect of needling.
Fast-forward eight years to 2008. Researcher Susan E Shore, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan Kresge Hearing Institute conducted a study that made a connection between the nerve cells in the face and neck to tinnitus. She found that when hearing cells are damaged, the touch-sensing neurons in the face and neck become hyperactive causing tinnitus. She suggests that currently available treatments such as acupuncture that targets nerves in the head and neck could relieve tinnitus. [University of Michigan]
Maybe It’s a Medical Condition and Not Faulty Acupuncture
It is important to note the underlying cause of tinnitus in order to find an effective treatment. If your tinnitus is caused by an overproduction of ear wax, for example, then acupuncture will likely have little effect. Even if it does, it would only be temporary until the source of the problem is removed.
Tinnitus can be caused by a number of conditions beyond exposure to loud noise and age-related hearing loss. Tinnitus can be caused by ear bone changes, Meniere’s disease, TMJ, head and neck injuries, acoustic neuroma, head and neck tumors, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, turbulent blood flow, and malformation of capillaries. Even medications can cause tinnitus such as some antibiotics, cancer medications, diuretics, quinine, antidepressants, and aspirin in extremely high doses. [Mayo Clinic]
Unless the source of the problem is addressed, acupuncture to treat a symptom of the problem will likely be ineffective or temporary if the problem persists.
“Efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment for tinnitus… [Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2000] – PubMed result.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2011. http://archotol.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=404551
University of Michigan Press Release
Overactive touch-sensing nerve cells explain common “ringing in the ears”