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TCM and Tinnitus

Chinese medical ideas about the cause and treatment of tinnitus and other hearing disorders were developed many centuries ago. In the Neijing Suwen (1), written around 100 B.C., several potential causes were mentioned. For example, it is stated: "Kidney qi communicates with the ears; when the kidneys are functioning well, the five types of sound can be heard." The term kidney (shen), as used by ancient Chinese doctors, refers to a functional complex that is today difficult to link to specific organs, but can be suggested to involve not only the kidneys, but also the endocrine system. According to the traditional ideas, kidney qi weakens with aging (especially after age 50) and difficulty with hearing, as well as failings of the other senses, particularly vision, arises as a result. We know from modern investigations that tinnitus may arise in conjunction with the common old age disorders of anemia, heart and blood vessel disorders (e.g., hypertension, hyperlipidemia, arteriosclerosis), and the accumulated effect of numerous ear infections or exposures to very loud noise over many years.

There are specific strategies for rectifying the kidney qi deficiencies described by Chinese physicians, and these same strategies are also applied (with only slight modifications) to a number of aging-related problems, such as lowered immune function, reduced libido and sexual responsiveness, achiness in the lower back and joints, fatigue and sleep disorder, and impairment of memory. What is specific about tinnitus is the spontaneous aural activity, which the Chinese usually interpret as a type of movement, signifying an agitation of the yang energy that ought to be more settled by presence of adequate yin. Such yang agitation can also cause dizziness, insomnia, and headaches.

It is also said in the Neijing that "When the yin fails to contain the yang, the flow in the channels will become rapid, causing the yang qi to become excessive and reckless. If the yang qi is deficient and unable to counterbalance the yin, communication between the internal organs will be disrupted, and the nine orifices will cease to function....When yin and yang are balanced, the five visceral organs function appropriately together....vision is clear and hearing is acute." According to this concept, both yang agitation (from yin deficiency) and yang deficiency can lead to disorders in hearing (the ears being two of the nine orifices; the eyes also being two of the orifices). In cases of yang deficiency, the body is overwhelmed by yin (substance) and the communication becomes blocked; organs don't interact properly with each other or with their external manifestations, such as eyes and ears.

Another cause is indicated in the Neijing for cases of acute loss of hearing: "a case of sudden onset [of symptoms], where the patient may pass out, lose hearing, or experience obstruction of the bowel or urine, is usually induced by chaos of the qi and blood within." In such cases, one must regulate the flow of qi and blood to restore normal functions. As to the cause of this chaos, the text continues: "Headaches, ringing in the ears, and obstruction of the nine orifices are usually caused by imbalances in the stomach and intestines." By improving dietary practices and by using harmonizing therapy to improve and coordinate the stomach and intestine functions, these problems may be alleviated.

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