Tinnitus, or ringing and noises in your ears, ranges from squeaks and hissing to the roar of a jet plane. It can be occasional or constant, or vary through your day.
It's very disconcerting and some people are driven to distraction by it.
How does Chinese medicine explain it? (Click here for a site explaining it from the point of Western medicine.)
You could say that Chinese medicine started from just two interconnected ideas: yin and yang. Yin is the support, the structure, your ongoing constitution. Yang is what keeps it alive, adapting, changing, moving and warm.
Life - for you - is all yin? Total boredom and what seems not like death warmed up, but cooled down.
Life is all yang? Disaster! But life! And Death!
How can these relate to tinnitus, that infernal noise in your ears?
Well, I have it, for one thing: not too badly, and usually not too intrusive, but still, there constantly. It doesn't seem to interfere with my hearing, which is deteriorating a bit anyway, from age.
Do I like it? No.
Should I have done something about it? Yes. I should. But, and here's the first problem with treating it with Chinese medicine, I've had it - gradually increasing - for at least 57 years, and I know why. Read on to find out.
I've realised, after treating lots of people with tinnitus, that if you've had it for more than TWO years, acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be able to help - assuming it fits one of the categories, or syndromes, below - but it probably won't cure it comletely.
In other words, acupuncture may stop it worsening, and sometimes it may help it get better, but not cure it.
That's if you've had it for two years or more.
Less than two years? There's much more hope. The right treatment may clear it - if it fits one of the syndromes mentioned below.
And two years is a bit arbitrary: for older or less fit people it may be less. For young, fit, otherwise healthy people, it may be longer.
Tinnitus disturbs your equilibrium, so that makes it yang.
However, in Chinese medicine that could happen because of
And it could be a combination of these factors.
This happens to all of us sooner or later.
You 'catch' something, giving you:
The cause might be a 'cold' or another acute illness, making you ill.
In Chinese medicine it is nearly always accompanied by a syndrome called 'Wind-Heat'. It's this 'wind' that brings the problem: it disturbs the usual healthy flow of 'qi' - energy - round your 'meridians'.
Your body fights back with its yang energy but because of the blockage and because 'heat' - yang - rises, it ends up in your head, often as a noise like wind or hissing.
Actually, it's a bit more technical than that: mainly this technical stuff has to do with which acupuncture channels are affected, what these have to do with your other symptoms at the time, and how all this interconnects.
Treatment involves clearing the channels and adjusting the balance between the exterior and the interior. For people interested in Chinese medicine it's all endlessly fascinating: everyone else just has a life.
This syndrome doesn't arise from external sources.
It's an internal problem which manifests in many different ways.
Have you ever lost your temper?
If so, you probably experienced symptoms of Liver Yang 'escaping' upwards.
Then you'll have Excess Liver Yang.
What do typical Liver Yang syndromes look like?
Why? Yang rises, and Liverish people are short on patience and have a tendency to temper and tension. They have many frustrations and as a reward, they get high blood pressure - hypertension.
Normally, that's to say when you aren't liverish, your Liver and Gallbladder send good energy upwards, making you clear-eyed and confident. When Liver Yang ascends, you get too much of this, usually because your Liver Yin and Liver Blood energies are deficient.
Being deficient, they can't anchor the Liver Yang, which 'ascends'.
How did they become deficient? Over time, from stress, long-term emotional strain and, possibly, the wrong foods, or the wrong ways of eating food - read Nutrition.
Treatment for Liver Yang ascending comes in two parts.
Both have to be done, and which takes precedence has to be decided by your acupuncturist or herbalist, though usually he or she would include aspects of both.
Liver Fire ascending is a step beyond Liver Yang.
Quite a big step, and often a bit worrying because whereas with Liver Yang ascending you can get hypertension - high blood pressure - with Liver Fire ascending you may also get nosebleeds and vomiting up blood.
So it's a step beyond Liver Yang. Read more about Liver Fire here, but briefly here are some of the symptoms:
© Christos Georghiou
Here, the word 'fire' denotes a conflagration. With Liver Yang ascending most people can get themselves under control but with Liver Fire, this is much harder. So the Fire rushes upwards, producing redness in the eyes, blood in the nose, heat in the face and head and blood being vomited up.
Fire is heating and drying so you get dark, concentrated urine and constipation with dry stools.
The Fire prevents easy sleep, and when you do sleep your dreams are disturbing, even violent.
So - worrying!
Doctors think of giving you calming medicine, and they will definitely be thinking about your blood pressure.
In Chinese medicine, as with Liver Yang, there are strong acupuncture points to help rebalance your energy and not just bring it down, but keep it down: if so, eventually you won't need medication!
How do you get Liver Fire? For more on this click here, but it doesn't usually arise without a reason. (You probably have a tendency to Excess Liver Yang - see above - already.)
That reason is often that you've been eating the wrong foods for too long (ie foods that aren't right for YOU, even if your spouse or best friend can eat them all the year round) and that you've been under great emotional strain.
Treatment of Liver Fire: part of the treatment is to cool and stabilise the Fire. Almost equally important is to stop you eating the wrong foods, to start you eating more of the right foods, and to help you sort out the source of your emotional strain.
The benefits from just acupuncture on its own won't last long without making these other changes.
Whatever the reason, if your Kidney energy is deficient, it won't be able to stop Yang energy rising. Symptoms of this syndrome with tinnitus show a gradual deterioration in your body's constitution.
Still, that doesn't mean you can't battle on for many years. But you'll need more frequent rest, and you'll need to be careful with your diet.
There are Chinese herbal formulae and acupuncture treatments that over time can greatly help - but just as this condition didn't occur suddenly, so treatment will take time: you must persist!
So, whereas with all the above syndromes, the right treatment done soon after onset can usually greatly improve if not clear your tinnitus, with this one it takes time and sometimes it is impossible to completely cure it.
Typical symptoms of this Kidney Yin deficiency syndrome include
This kind of tinnitus often improves after a good night's sleep, but then increases again through the day or as you become tired.
Treatment for Kidney deficiency takes time but with persistence can often greatly improve the symptoms.
Deficient Qi means deficient energy which means tiredness.
Treatment for Qi Deficiency. I would say that, for most people, this is the easiest syndrome to cure. I had it a few years ago after bronchitis (yes, yes, I know, I'm not supposed to get sick - blah-blah) and when I worked out what it was (sick people take sick decisions), the treatment I gave myself worked in 2 days.
Trauma covers a multitude of situations. Here are a few examples but you can think of more:
Go to those pages on Qi Stagnation and Blood stagnation for more on these potentially serious syndromes, but the tinnitus that comes with trauma makes you often sensitive to high or shrill noises.
The success of treatment depends on the severity of the trauma in relation to your constitution and how soon after the trauma your treatment begins, particularly in the case of Blood Stagnation.
In other words, a healthy young person might seem more traumatised by a big shock but could recover faster than an old or ill person who was subject to a much milder trauma.
Long-term Blood stagnation takes longer to treat than Qi stagnation.
No, there are more, but the ones described above are the main ones.
You can also get ringing in the ears from:
... I hear you ask ...
I was brought up on a farm, with many pigeons, rabbits and rooks that enjoyed the food we put out for the cattle, chickens and pigs.
Around my 13th birthday my father took me to learn 'clay-pigeon' shooting. We used twin-barrel 12-bore shot guns.
We shot for 4 hours before lunch and 3 hours after it, almost continuously. There were others nearby doing likewise. The noise of the explosions was considerable. In those days we wore no ear-noise protectors.
For many days afterwards I had mild deafness and a drumming noise in my ears. From then on I always had mild tinnitus.
Chinese medicine has made a difference but not cured it.
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Published 1986 and, amazingly, still selling. Was apparently used back then by at least one acupuncture college to help students understand Chinese medicine!
One Review so far. (Despite the lurid cover, it explains the five main types of phlegm and what works best for each type. I hope it's easy to read and will be much more useful than all the websites on the subject.)
3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!
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