Now that we had discovered the basics of acupuncture in part 1 of this series, let’s examine if it really works for patients with hearing impairment. For most of us who work with hearing impairment each day, the thought that introducing needles into strategic points on the pinna and around the ear to cure or reduce hearing loss, tinnitus or dizziness seems to be part deception and part snake oil. Swinbourne (2011) even describes that after the fall of China to communism in the late 1940s, communist propaganda videos showed that acupuncture had cured 105 children at a school for the deaf of their deafness.
The video presented here offers the basic premise that the teachings of Mao led to the thought process that caused the Ministry of Health to order the use of acupuncture that cured the deaf students and that all were “cured” so that they could hear the teachings of Chairman Mao.
Even among acupuncture providers and traditional Chinese medicine experts, treatment of hearing loss with acupuncture is not thought to be beneficial for patients with broken tympanic membranes, disarticulated ossicular chains, and other physicial anomalies. There is, however, rather mixed research (both Chinese and Western) relative to the use of acupuncture for sudden hearing loss and other auditory disorders, such as tinnitus.
Acupuncture and Tinnitus
Siedman (2010), an ENT physician at Henry Ford Hospital and a well known expert on tinnitus, reports that he often employs a variety of medical and herbal therapies for his tinnitus patients and often refers patients that do not respond to traditional therapies to an integral medicine center for further study and treatment. The center employs therapies drawn from the best of the world’s healing traditions to help patients achieve overall wellness and optimal health. Kohn (2010), an acupuncture therapist at Henry Ford Hospital, says that tinnitus is often an example of an imbalance between the Yin and the Yang.
In many people, tinnitus is an expression of a much deeper disharmony that has been slowly and gradually evolving. For these patients, the treatment options will include acupuncture and herbal therapies to nourish the body at a deeper level. For others, tinnitus may be a side effect of medications or exposure to loud noise. These patients may respond well to acupuncture therapy alone. Traditional Chinese medicine not only addresses the symptom or the tinnitus (referred to as the branch), but also the underlying imbalance (or the root). By treating the root, the actual disharmony is broken and the body returns to optimal health.
Altschuler (2007), a homeopathic medicine specialist, suggests that acupuncture may be the most useful treatment for tinnitus as well as for hearing loss. He also notes that acupuncture is often accompanied by various Chinese herbs to augment the treatment. As described in last week’s post, acupuncture treatment involves the strategic placement of small needles, about the size of a hair, and often requires 8-12 needles to access all of the required areas. Altschuler observes that initial benefits from acupuncture should occur within eight to 10 treatments, although more sessions may be necessary for patients to obtain maximum benefit. He, and others, feel that about 40-50 percent of people with tinnitus obtain benefits from acupuncture. So, it appears that when ENTs and otologists have exhausted their treatments and we have run the course of masking, tinnitus retraining, Neuromonics, and other treatments, a referral for acupuncture could be of some benefit.
Acupuncture and Sudden Hearing Loss
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD 2010 a), defines sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness, as a rapid loss of hearing. SSHL can happen all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. It should be considered a medical emergency and a physician who specializes in the ear should be consulted immediately. A hearing impairment affects only one ear in 9 out of 10 people who experience SSHL. Many people first notice SSHL when they wake up in the morning. Others notice it when they try to use the deafened ear, such as to make a phone call. Still others hear a loud, alarming “pop” just before their hearing disappears. People with SSHL often experience dizziness or a ringing in their ears, or both.
When medical treatment does not result in the return of their hearing, SSHL patients are extremely frustrated. Often they become candidates for amplification after some time, but most will always be difficult rehabilitative patients. For these sudden hearing loss patients, acupuncture has some mixed success.
Zhao (2006) presents a study in which 63 Chinese subjects suffering from SSHL were treated with acupuncture. The acupuncture regimen was 7 days, constituting one course with an interval of 3 days between two courses. Changes in the hearing threshold, and the difference of therapeutic effects between different states of illness and different types were investigated. Researchers found that in four cases (6.3%), the SSHL was cured; in 17 cases (27.0%), the treatment was markedly effective; in 19 cases (30.2%) it was effective; and in 23 cases (36.5%), acupuncture was ineffective. The total effectiveness rate was 63.5%. The data showed a significant difference in the mean hearing threshold before and after treatment (P <0.05).
Most indications of the use of acupuncture for SSHL are similar, suggesting that acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine may be of benefit for some types of sudden hearing impairment.
Curing Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There are some isolated incidents of curing deafness by acupuncture, but not much controlled research in this area. Although there is some evidence that that some auditory disorders can be successfully treated by acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, there is little actual documented study of the results of acupuncture with pre- and post-audiometric studies.
Over the past 4-5 years, however, interest has grown in the otology community in the use of alternative treatments for conducting non-traditional research that could possibly benefit the hearing impaired. Acupuncture is one of those areas that holds some research promise (NIDCD, 2010b), but probably not for our patients with a typical sensorineural hearing impairment any time soon.
We could say that at the moment it is it (acupuncture) is “not quite ready for prime time”, but for some types of hearing loss, it is not totally snake oil either.
Altschuler, L., (2007). Now hear this ….again. AmeriForce.net Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.ameriforce.net/PDF/rng_sept07/RNGSept07p38-39.pdf
Kohn, B. (2010). Acupuncture and tinnitus. Arches. Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.tinnitusformula.com/infocenter/articles/treatments/acu.aspx
National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) (2010a). Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/sudden.aspx
National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) (2010b). Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/funding/programs/ot/Pages/default.aspx
Siedman, M. (2010). Editors note: Tinnitus formulas. Arches. Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.tinnitusformula.com/infocenter/articles/treatments/acu.aspx
Swinbourne, C. (2011). charles Swinbourne, Deaf Journalist. Retrieved November 10, 2011: http://charlieswinbourne.com/2011/08/16/propaganda-film-shows-how-chinese-people-were-told-acupuncture-cured-deafness/
Zhao, Y. (2006). Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture on late sudden hearing loss. Zhongquo Zhen Jiu. March, vol 26(3),pp 180-182. Retrieved November 13, 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16570437