Acupuncture for Hearing Loss & Tinnitus: Does it Really Work?

Acupuncture for Hearing Loss & Tinnitus_ Does it Really Work_

Have you ever had acupuncture treatment? If you have, you might vividly recall your first treatment. Acupuncture is a treatment that is commonly used as a part of the larger medical system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Walking into a calm and comfortable room with low lighting and often the smell of herbs or aromatherapy, the patient is asked to lie on a table that looks like a massage table. In this comfortable position, the practitioner inserts very tiny needles into the body in precise locations. With these needles in place, the person is asked to relax for a duration of time, allowing the treatment to take effect. After time has elapsed, the practitioner removes the needles one by one, and the person is asked to slowly sit up. The treatment can cause a feeling of slight dizziness or head rush, so the process of returning to regular life needs to be slow and careful. This remarkable treatment has been used for a wide range of conditions ranging from mental maladies to serious physical diseases or recovery from injuries. Some of the many conditions subjected to acupuncture therapy have to do with hearing, as well. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (or SSHL) have all been treated by acupuncture with varying results. First, let’s take a look at how acupuncture is said to work, in general. Then, let’s consider the effects of acupuncture on these hearing-related conditions, including the research that is available to test its effectiveness.


How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture is part of a holistic approach to medical intervention, and it is seldom practiced in isolation of other therapies. Crucial to the expertise behind acupuncture is that the mind does not exist in isolation of the body, nor vice versa, so any medical intervention should consider the connections between them. When the tiny needles are inserted into the body at precise points, they are thought to stimulate a nervous system response. When the nervous system is stimulated by a prick, it can cause a chain reaction of releasing chemicals into the muscles, brain, and spinal cord. The effect is not localized, either. Putting these tiny needles into the body in one location can have an effect elsewhere in the body, because the nervous system is the pathway through which information is passed. These chemicals and hormones can cause healing in ways that are only starting to be understood by Western medicine.


What about Acupuncture and Hearing-related Conditions?

Although acupuncture has been remarkably effective as a treatment for a wide range of physical and mental maladies, the jury is still out when it comes to hearing-related conditions. Each type of hearing loss has a different relation with acupuncture. Some reports of effectiveness date back to 1940 when a report claimed that acupuncture was able to cure total deafness! Since that time the reports regarding hearing loss have been inconclusive. Anecdotal reports abound, but controlled scientific studies have been limited. In addition, many of the cases used acupuncture in conjunction with herbal treatments and other drug therapy, so it is difficult to understand if the results are due to acupuncture or other features of treatment.

Results have been more promising when it comes to two other hearing-related conditions: tinnitus and Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (or SSHL). In each case, reports have been promising, and some clinical trials have taken place. Those with tinnitus found a reduction in the volume of background noise that had been plaguing them, and the overall feeling of wellbeing was improved, as well. Similarly, SSHL patients responded quite well to acupuncture. This condition itself is very mysterious, as there is no clear medical or injurious cause of the hearing loss. Those with SSHL find that they wake up with hearing loss or total deafness, or it may come after a sudden “pop” out of nowhere. The loss tends to be in one ear, and doctors are still trying to understand how it comes about. Despite the mystery surrounding SSHL, acupuncture has been remarkably effective, in some cases healing the condition altogether and in others bringing back some hearing ability. Of course, in all these cases further research is necessary to precisely measure the effects of acupuncture.

Studies on Hearing Loss & Injuries

Studies on Hearing Loss & Injuries

Football players have been in the media more than ever due to their high rates of Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI. Sometimes lasting for many years after their time as players and with much greater severity than previously believed, these players suffer the consequences of repeated impacts against their brains. Even beyond the world of sports players, head injuries can lead to concussions or worse, particularly when they are the result of repeated assaults on the head. A concussion results when the brain has a contusion, or bruise, resulting from jostling against the skull. Let’s take a moment to learn a little bit more about Traumatic Brain Injuries and how they relate to a condition that might surprise you: hearing loss.

Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries are as varied as their sources are. In some cases these effects are reversible and mild. In other cases they can lead to permanent damage with serious symptoms. The neurological effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries are the most recognizable, including motor problems, dizziness, and speech problems. Some people experience sexual dysfunction, while others find themselves with symptoms resembling epilepsy or hydrocephalus. The cognitive effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury range from mild confusion to the extreme cases of memory loss and dysphoria, sometimes linked to the inability to put together words into meaningful units of cognition. Some people with Traumatic Brain Injuries experience impaired judgment and trouble making logical decisions for themselves, as well. In addition to these neurological and cognitive problems, some people actually find that their personalities are affected, as well. Mood and energy levels can be affected, and some people experience depression or anxiety as a result of a Traumatic Brain Injury. In addition to limited coping skills, the frustration can build to a point of anger management issues, but some people with Traumatic Brain Injuries go in the other direction of malaise, apathy, and general fatigue.

Traumatic Brain Injuries and Hearing Loss

In addition to the effects listed above, Traumatic Brain Injuries can lead to sensory impairments, including hearing loss. Let’s consider the ways that hearing loss can be related to a Traumatic Brain Injury. In the most obvious cases, an injury may occur not only to the brain but to one or both ears at the same time. A blow to the head can cause damage to the ear canal, reducing hearing function at the anatomical level. However, the relation with hearing loss does not stop there. Others experience hearing loss from a Traumatic Brain Injury due to an impairment of the auditory nervous pathway. If the injury occurred in such a way to damage the connection between the ears and the meaning-making mind, then the link between sound and thought can be severed. In these cases, a person may be able to “hear” just fine but may have trouble understanding or making sense of the sounds they encounter. On a more basic level, the injurious event may also cause hearing loss at the same time. A car crash or explosion may cause a very loud sound that damages the ability to hear, including not only hearing loss but also tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Other hearing effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury include aural fullness, spatial recognition problems, vertigo, or problems differentiating background noise from the sound of a speaker or point of focus.

The good news is that treatment is available for people with many of these resulting conditions from a Traumatic Brain Injury. The first step is to consult with a doctor and to seek appropriate testing for the conditions that have occurred. If you believe that a history of head trauma, a specific incident, or a possible concussion might have caused a Traumatic Brain Injury, do not delay to get treatment from a medical professional. The associated effects need to be addressed at the root cause, and a neurologist may be the right person to contact for proper assessment. However, the resulting conditions of hearing loss and sensory impairment may be treated by an audiologist or hearing health professional. Working in concert with your medical personnel, you can devise a treatment plan for hearing loss that addresses the entire network of symptoms you experience.