With hearing loss and tinnitus prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest—an estimated one out of every five people in Portland experiences one or both to some degree—the quest for a solution is a high priority for many. While traditional treatment options such as hearing aids are most popular, some patients are looking for alternative approaches such as acupuncture. But does this really work?
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a key tenet of traditional Chinese medicine. Practitioners insert thin needles into the body in order to promote natural healing. This is sometimes accompanied by heat, pressure or laser light in a precisely orchestrated manner.
The Chinese believe that when specific points in the body are subjected to needling, the nervous system is stimulated, triggering the release of chemicals and hormones to the muscles, spinal cord and brain, encouraging natural healing.
Proponents believe acupuncture cures many ailments; as far back as the 1940s, claims were being made about its ability to reverse deafness, sudden sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. However, there is at best mixed evidence to substantiate these claims.
Is acupuncture proven to work?
A study published in the February 2015 issue of International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine looked at the results of a dozen previous studies to determine the efficacy and safety of acupuncture in the treatment of sensorineural hearing loss.
Their findings showed that acupuncture was able to improve the hearing of some patients diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, especially when used in conjunction with medication. However, the authors concluded the study was flawed and additional research is needed due to several key points.
Where did previous studies misstep?
- The sample size was small
- Safety data was inadequate
- It is impossible to determine whether the positive results were due to the acupuncture, medication, the placebo effect or a combination of factors
- The research was conducted in China, where medicine practices are vastly different
Have there been additional studies?
Additional Chinese studies examining the effect of acupuncture treatment on sudden deafness found that two-thirds of participants benefited from a “therapeutic effect” following treatment, but again, a small sample size and lack of a control group—plus the fact that this type of hearing loss sometimes resolves on its own—make these results questionable.
What did the British Tinnitus Association conclude?
The British Tinnitus Association went a step farther; after reviewing research on acupuncture as a treatment for tinnitus, they declared there was no evidence showing that the treatment was effective.
It is possible, however, that acupuncture has some benefit; the treatment seems to have a relaxing effect that helps lower stress and anxiety, which may indirectly provide tinnitus relief. And it has been shown to reduce pain (which can also trigger tinnitus), so there may be a benefit to acupuncture treatment, after all—at least in a roundabout way.
If you have tinnitus, schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
The bottom line is this: acupuncture won’t hurt you and might offer some benefit, but there is no evidence it provides long-term relief from hearing loss or tinnitus. Your best bet if suffering from a hearing condition is to schedule an appointment with a Portland audiologist for a more traditional solution.