Acupuncture for Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ear or the head, and affects about 10% of the population. Whilst for some people it is a minor inconvenience, for others it can be a very distressing and disruptive condition, causing insomnia, difficulty concentrating and even depression. Sometimes there is an increased sensitivity to normal sounds so that a TV may seem painfully loud when to other people it is at normal volume. The condition is often worse at quiet times, such as when trying to sleep. Whilst tinnitus often arises in old age, a growing number of younger people are suffering  from it, perhaps because of the increasing noisiness of the modern world.

In most cases conventional medicine has no cure for tinnitus and treatment focuses on managing the condition so that it is not too disruptive.

Tinnitus and TCM

The Chinese Medical approach to health is an holistic one, and so a problem like tinnitus is seen within the context of the individual as a whole; and thus treatment is tailored to that individual. Broadly speaking, Chinese Medicine differentiates two different types of tinnitus:

– Tinnitus which is loud, perhaps high-pitched and intermittent, and which began suddenly is usually due to an excess of Qi rushing upwards along some of the meridians which flow through the ear. This can often be stress-related; stress results in a failure of the body’s Qi to flow freely so that we feel ‘uptight’ and tense; eventually the pressure is as it were released by the Qi rushing upwards uncontrollably. In this respect the symptom of tinnitus is not unlike what happens when an old style kettle reaches boiling point—it whistles.

So Chinese Medicine treats this kind of tinnitus by first of all ‘rooting’ the Qi, preventing it from rushing upwards, and by encouraging and restoring the smooth flow of the Qi. Acupuncture is particularly effective in this regard, and we will also discuss with you other ways in which you can help your Qi to flow more freely, perhaps by doing some gentle Chi Kung exercises.

– Tinnitus which comes on gradually, perhaps with old age, and which tends to be low-pitched is due to the opposite problem; there is not enough Qi reaching the ears to enable them to function properly. In this case,  treatment aims to nourish the Qi with appropriate acupuncture treatment and perhaps herbal therapy. We will also want to identify why the Qi is insufficient; for example, it may be that the digestive or respiratory systems are not working at optimum efficiency, and since these are both of central importance to our body’s manufacturing of Qi, they may be implicated indirectly in the tinnitus. We would then use acupuncture and maybe herbal therapy to treat this underlying cause of Qi deficiency.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Tinnitus?

A Swedish study1 of 22 patients with severe tinnitus found that acupuncture yielded immediate relief, both in terms of loudness and disturbance of the tinnitus, and in quality of life.


1 Furugard s. et al Acupuncture Worth Trying in Severe Tinnitus Lakartidningen. 1998 Jun 10;95(24):2799.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.