Winter is associated with the kidneys in Chinese medicine,and the kidneys are thought to open into the ears. Many ear maladies, includingdeafness and tinnitus, are rooted in kidney health. Age-related hearing loss isa good demonstration of this relationship: as people grow older and their kidneyqi naturally wanes, they may gradually lose their hearing or be unable to hearcertain frequencies.
Both deafness and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are classifiedinto two types of imbalances: excess and deficiency. With an excess syndrome, aprocess of pathological changes called an “upstirring of liver-gall bladder wind-fire”causes the obstruction of qi circulation in the channels that encircle the ear.A deficiency syndrome is from insufficient kidney qi which does not fully ascendto the ear. These two types of syndromes can be differentiated by the patient’ssymptoms and the history of the condition, as well as the quality of their pulse.For instance, an irritable patient with sudden hearing loss and tinnitus presentingwith a taut pulse, a flushed face, dry mouth, and possibly headache would signifyan excess syndrome; while a patient who is dizzy and weak with a threadlikepulse would signify a deficiency case. The acupuncture points used to treateach of these syndromes would be (accordingly) to quell the excess, using pointsalong the relevant meridians, or to shore up the kidney qi, using points onboth the lower back and the front sides of the body. The needles would then be manipulatedwith a very specific technique appropriate to each syndrome.
Recent research has also been done on a condition calledsudden onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). A relatively rare idiopathic conditionthat usually affects one ear, SSHL is now thought to be caused by either a virusor trauma to the auditory nerve. (There is also conductive hearing loss which hasmore to do with the way sound is conducted through the middle ear; in thiscase, it usually involves damage to or malfunction of the ossicles, or small bonesof the middle ear.) Recent research on acupuncture and SSHL treatments has shownpromising results. SSHL standard treatment is oral steroids and/or steroidinjections into the eardrum to reduce inflammation on the nerve. Patients who underwentstandard steroid treatment along with acupuncture (a protocol consisting mainlyof points around the outer ear and near the mastoid bone) had the best resultsfor recovering some of their hearing.
Chronic tinnitus and deafness are difficult to treat, and anyonewho develops sudden symptoms of either should immediately seek medicalattention. Once other emergent conditions are ruled out, acupuncture may be agood option to use concurrently with western medicine for acute symptoms.