Tinnitus: Ringing and Noises in your Ears

Tinnitus, or ringing or noises in the ear, range from hissing to squeaking to the sound of a jet plane. What is it? Can you get rid of it?
Ringing ear - Tinnitus
Photo by Hayes Potter on Unsplash

Key Learning Points

  • Tinnitus mostly occurs when ‘yang’ overpowers ‘yin’
  • Usually curable with Chinese medicine if you’ve had it for less than two years
  • Lifestyle factors make a huge difference
  • Some foods make you more susceptible to tinnitus

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.)

Yin, Yang and Tinnitus

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?

How do I know anything about tinnitus?

Well, I have it, for one thing: not too badly, and usually not too intrusive, but still, always there. 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 62 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 completely.

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.

(Even so, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that can sometimes fix it – or at any rate make a big difference.)

Back to Yin and Yang

Tinnitus disturbs your equilibrium, so that makes it yang.

However, in Chinese medicine that could happen because of

  1. something (usually excess yang) invading your system
  2. excess yang bubbling up inside you
  3. excess ‘Fire’ bursting up inside
  4. deficient yin unable to anchor or restrain your yang
  5. deficient qi ( a state of exhaustion)
  6. trauma – an injury or emotional or physical effort that severely tests you and to which you are not used
  7. A combination of the above

1. Invasion by ‘external pathogenic factors’

This happens to all of us sooner or later.

You ‘catch’ something, giving you:

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • stiff neck
  • sneezing
  • feeling of fever or heat or cold … usually you dislike cold
  • including acute ear infections
  • This kind of tinnitus comes on suddenly, usually high-pitched, and often with deafness
  • tongue: red on the sides or at the front
  • pulse: ‘floating’ and fast

 

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.

Tinnitus: Ringing and Noises in your Ears Video

2. Excess Liver Yang

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.

 

Man angry with Tinnitus
Photo by Genaro Servín from Pexels

 

(Well, I’m assuming you get the same kind of feelings as me when I lose my temper. In other words, it’s not your big toe that gets Liver Yang, unless you’ve dropped something on it or stubbed it on the furniture: but then, that would come under ‘trauma’, see below.)

What do typical Liver Yang syndromes look like?

  • face goes red
  • easily angered, irascible, impatient, outbursts
  • sometimes goes dizzy with it
  • tense shoulders
  • tight head
  • feeling as if your head is expanding, or ‘distending’
  • sleeplessness 
  • when you do sleep, you get exciting or vivid dreams
  • dryness in your mouth
  • and … much more about Liver Yang here
  • including tinnitus – ringing and noises in your ears, usually high-pitched – can come with deafness
  • pulse: wiry

Why these symptoms?

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 (excess) 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 your Liver Yang, which ‘ascends’, a bit like a cork held under water, then let go.

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.

  1. One is to stabilise your yang energy and send it down
  2. The other is to strengthen your Blood and Yin energies.

 

Both have to be done. Which takes precedence has to be decided by your acupuncturist or herbalist, though usually he or she would include aspects of both.

3. Liver ‘Fire’

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:

  • great irascibility, frequent temper, even uncontrollable
  • head feels as if bursting
  • headache at the temples
  • red eyes
  • red face – it looks flushed
  • constipation with dried out stools
  • dark urine 
  • thirst
  • bitter taste
  • insomnia
  • red tongue covered in a yellow coating
  • … and tinnitus. This kind of tinnitus can be very loud and distracting. It starts suddenly, and may come with deafness. It is usually high-pitched.
  • Tongue: red, with even redder sides and a dry golden-yellow coating
  • Pulse: rapid and wiry

 

Angry Woman
Image by npriddey from Pixabay

What does ‘Fire’ mean?

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 re-balance 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 already – see above.)

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, 
  • start you eating more of the right foods, and 
  • 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.

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4. Kidney Deficiency unable to anchor yang

You don’t usually get Kidney deficiency overnight. It comes from long-term strain, from ageing, from a series of feverish diseases or from other causes that you can read about by clicking here.

Whatever the reason, if your Kidney energy is deficient, it won’t 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!

 

The nose of the ship white, on-berth at anchor
© Dymax | Dreamstime.com – The nose of the ship white, on-berth at anchor

 

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

  • dark discolouration of the skin of the face, especially under the eyes
  • mild dizziness usually on long standing or carrying things or walking slowly
  • tiredness
  • floaters  – spots in the eyes
  • gradual loss of hearing
  • gradual increase in lumbar backache
  • knees ache
  • ears look ‘dried out’
  • discharges from the body involuntarily: fluids ‘leak’
  • spermatorrhoea
  • and … tinnitus. This kind of tinnitus usually comes on gradually, over time, for instance as you grow older. The sound is usually a low humming or rushing sound.

 

This tinnitus often improves after a good sleep, but increases gradually as you tire: or after the wrong foods, eg coffee. (Men: ejaculation can worsen it. Sorry.)

Treatment for Kidney deficiency 

Takes time but with persistence can often greatly improve the symptoms.

5. Deficient Qi

Deficient Qi means deficient energy which means tiredness.

  • you are often tired, exhausted
  • stairs and running are just too much: you must rest often
  • your face is white
  • often slightly short of breath
  • your voice is weaker than normal, or may start out relatively firmly but soon runs out of ‘oomph’
  • singing is too much of an effort
  • appetite is poor – almost as if you lack the energy to eat
  • you sweat easily, or when you wouldn’t normally expect to 
  • your eyes may water unexpectedly even though you aren’t sad or crying
  • your nose may run even without any signs of a cold
  • you may find that urine escapes involuntarily
  • your stools are loose, ie of non-defined shape: mushy
  • if bad, this syndrome can bring what seems to your doctor like depression
  • and … this syndrome brings tinnitus which is worse the more exhausted you feel

 

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 – eventually – I worked out what it was (sick people take sick decisions), the treatment I gave myself worked in 2 days.

Read more about Qi here.

6. Trauma

 

Battered Van
LIFE OF TRAUMA!
Photo of a battered old bus I encountered near Aviemore, Scotland.

LIFE OF TRAUMA!

Trauma covers a multitude of situations. Here are a few examples but you can think of more:

  • an accident
  • shock – mental, emotional or physical
  • a blow to your head
  • physical strain that is out of the ordinary – like moving house!
  • stubbing your toe
  • surgical operation
  • sudden pain from stiff joints
  • a fall
  • a sudden injury
  • a heart attack
  • bone fracture
  • ‘ill-effects of fright, or loss, or anger or repentance’ as one writer puts it (Dr S.R.Phatak)
  • over-use of any organ
  • insect stings
  • splinters
  • stroke

 

As you will see, trauma takes many forms, but in the body, from the point of view of Chinese medicine, they all lead to either Qi stagnation and/or Blood stagnation.

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.

Only six kinds of Tinnitus syndrome?

No, there are more, but the ones described above are the main ones.

You can also get ringing in the ears from:

OK! So what kind of tinnitus do I have?

 … 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. 

Shooting can be bad for tinnitus
Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash

For many days afterwards I had mild deafness and a drumming noise in my ears. From then on I always had mild tinnitus.

 

Test!

So, having read the above, what kind of tinnitus do I have?

(Chinese medicine has made a difference but not cured it.)

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