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What's that Ringing? Tinnitus and How TCM Can Help

Have you ever had an inexplicable ringing in your ears, but don’t know why or how to get rid of it? You may have a condition called Tinnitus, and there is a wide array of causes. Exposure to sudden, loud music or explosive noises can cause Tinnitus, a nerve disorder that involves a consistent ringing sound in a person's ears. At its worse, Tinnitus can lead to deafness. Tinnitus affects one in 10 people, and can range from mild to chronic. While it is a common problem for veterans and the elderly, other common causes include whiplash or even dental work. While it is a difficult phenomenon for Western and East Asian medicine doctors to treat, tinnitus is not incurable.

In Chinese medicine, chronic Tinnitus is believed to be caused by kidney weakness, according to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine Faculty Member Dr. Mohammed Javaherian. Acupuncture is recommended and treatments will focus most likely on the kidney meridians, as well as on points along the liver and gallbladder meridians to help strengthen the root of the problem.

Tinnitus is linked to nerve and touch sensitivity. For some people, clenching one's jaws or applying pressure to the neck can bring on or reduce tinnitus episodes. Acupuncture patients with this disorder will have a high response rate to the nerve's natural response to pressure and the disorder's sensitivity to certain points. The practice of acupuncture is based on the stimulation of certain points on the body, as well as meridians and channels. Stimulating specific points (which are determined based on the patient's unique case) can rebalance the qi (one's life force) and alleviate the source of the problem. It is integral in traditional Chinese medicine to treat the origin of an ailment as well as the symptoms, and TCM has several theories as to what causes tinnitus.

For example, in more temporary cases of Tinnitus, high emotional strain or sudden anger can lead to a ringing in the ears. Also, diet can have an effect. Practitioners of TCM believe that excessive greasy foods or irregular eating can lead to Phlegm (a TCM term that commonly refers to a retention in body fluid), which prevents the rising of clear qi to the head (resulting in the "phantom noise" associated with tinnitus). Overworking or excessive physical strain can lead to a nerve disturbance, causing tinnitus. Lastly, trauma is a common cause of the ringing noise associated with this disorder.

Along with acupuncture, Chinese herbs can be prescribed. Example formulas are: Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin and Er Ming Zuo Ci Wan. “Sometimes a combination of chrysanthemum flower with mint might help,” Dr. Javaherian said.

Western medicine is limited in its treatment options for Tinnitus; no prescription drug is available for this condition. However, with careful management and the natural remedies found in traditional Chinese medicine, there is a resource waiting to be tapped.

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