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Tinnitus to Deafness? Chinese Medicine View


Out 90 percent of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, though many people may not even realize they have both conditions. Tinnitus usually follows the pattern of your loss. If you have trouble hearing high frequencies, your tinnitus is often a high-pitched ringing or hissing.

According to TCM principles, tinnitus results from one or more imbalances. Common excess-type imbalances include rising liver heat, phlegm-fire stagnation, and excessive liver and gallbladder heat. Common deficiency-type imbalances include kidney essence deficiency and blood-qi deficiency.

Aetiology – causes

There are two types of Tinnitus: Excess and Deficiency. Each type of tinnitus requires a particular type of treatment.

  • The Excess type: Rising Liver and gallbladder Fire are the cause. Sudden onset and loud sound. Ringing in the ear is usually a HIGH PITCH SOUND. Chinese medical theory connects this type of tinnitus to emotional strain. The latter manifests as irritability. You may experience headaches and dizziness. You may notice a bitter taste in the mouth. Frequent thirst, redness of the face and constipation are also common. Red tongue, with redder sides. The coating is yellow. The pulse is wiry and rapid.

  • The Deficiency type: Kidney-Essence deficiency is the cause. The onset is gradual. The sound is usually LOW PITCHED, sometimes like rushing water. It comes in bouts. You may notice slight dizziness with a feeling of emptiness of the head. Worsening memory. Blurred vision. Soreness in the back and knees. diminished sexual desire or performance. The tongue is pale (Kidney-Yang deficiency) or red (Kidney-Yin deficiency). No coating. A deep and weak pulse indicates Kidney-Yang deficiency. Whereas a floating-empty pulse suggests Kidney-Yin deficiency.

Chinese medical theory links the health of the ears with the Kidneys and Heart. It also applied this to the sense of hearing. The Kidneys and Heart function to supply essential energy (Qi) and blood to the ears. Thus the Chinese medical tinnitus treatment focuses on tonifying Kidneys. Other areas within the body are also targeted for tonification.

How to understand Chinese medical diagnosis

This is not to say that tinnitus means damage to the patient’s kidneys, liver or heart. A tinnitus patient may have these organs working in perfect condition.

The Chinese medical doctor will not try to affect the patient’s kidneys or heart.

Instead, their work is more subtle and natural.

They will work to influence the flow of blood and essential energies in the patient’s body. Chinese medical theory identifies these flows with discreet channels of energy circulation. Also known as ‘Meridians’.

Hence, during diagnosis, a Chinese medical practitioner may attribute tinnitus to “kidney deficiency”. But they are not referring to the pair of elimination organs in the back of your body. Rather, they mean a group of energetic mechanisms. Chinese medical theory groups them under the rubric of ‘Kidney’. That is, not the organ but the entire circuit of energy.

Treatment – Chinese medicine

Standard Chinese medical treatment is acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Chinese medicine also uses moxibustion as a tinnitus treatment. This involves igniting a cone or cylinder of moxa close to the skin.


The Chinese medical doctor assesses the patient’s health to pinpoint the cause. The doctor seeks to determine if the tinnitus is of a Deficiency type or Excess type.

Is there a chronic shortage of essential energy (Deficiency)? Or is there a significant imbalance of energies in the patient’s body (Excess)?

The answer will determine the course of treatment.

Prescription treatment

The Chinese medical doctor must identify the relevant acupuncture points. They must also select the most useful Chinese herbs.

At the same time, they must maintain a full grasp of the big picture. That is the patient’s health. Their medical history. What other symptoms are present? Does the patient take any medications or supplements?

Many of those symptoms and conditions may seem unrelated to tinnitus. But shortness of breath, back pain, low libido, and premature ejaculation are all important signs. These symptoms will influence the Chinese medical prescription.

Acupuncture treatments

After the diagnosis, the Chinese medical doctor will perform acupuncture. The treatment will stimulate the relevant acupoints in the patient’s body.

The purpose of acupuncture is to:

  • Mobilise the body’s essential energies and boost their circulation. This is a natural, gentle process. This approach is useful if the cause of tinnitus is of a Deficiency type. That is, the sound in the ears is low-pitched like rushing water. Symptoms include fatigue and back pain.


  • To gather the energies and place them under control. This is useful if the cause of tinnitus is ‘Full’. That is, the body’s energies are scattered. The circulation lacks healthy balance – thus causing a high-pitched noise in the ear(s). Symptoms include headache and constipation.

The Chinese medical doctor will be looking at the entire circulatory system of the body. The acupuncture will work at providing natural, careful rebalancing of energy flows.

The focus of acupuncture will be twofold:

  1. Regulate the body’s entire energy channels, where the imbalances have led to tinnitus. This involves stimulating points on the patient’s hand and foot, for example.

  2. To stimulate the points linked to the ear(s) affected by tinnitus.

The stimulation of points around the ear can cause a sensation of warmth inside the ear. It’s a pleasant feeling. It is a sign that the doctor’s acupuncture technique has ‘clicked’ with the patient’s body. It means they have chosen the correct acupuncture points. And the required treatment has been set in motion.

Chinese herbal medicine treatments

The Chinese medical doctor should also prescribe a combination of Chinese herbs.

Each herb has a natural affinity with the affected energy channel in the patient’s body. Thus the prescription functions to support the work of acupuncture. The formulation of the herbal prescription reflects Chinese medical theory.

If tinnitus is due to a shortage of essential energies, the herbs will boost the patient’s energy. The prescription should work to improve blood circulation and reduce fatigue.

If it is due to an imbalance in the circulation of energy, the herbs will calm the body. The prescription should help acupuncture restore orderly circulation in the body.

After acupuncture and herbal treatment, (depending on the severity, type and duration of the symptom, the course of treatment may vary from 2 months onwards) the symptoms of tinnitus should subside and disappear. The ringing in the ears should stop.

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