Tinnitus is a medical symptom that can indicate damage to your ear or auditory system. It’s often described as ringing in the ears, but you could hear other sounds, such as buzzing, clicking, roaring, or humming.

For some, tinnitus comes and goes. For others, it can last for hours or days at a time. Regardless of how long it lasts, tinnitus can be a major disruption to your daily life, making it hard to concentrate or sleep.

While there’s no cure for tinnitus, a range of treatments can help, including acupuncture. That said, it’s still a good idea to see a healthcare provider first to rule out any underlying causes that might require treatment, such as:

Read on to learn more about how acupuncture works and how it may help with tinnitus.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your health depends on the flow of qi (energy) in your body. This energy travels along invisible pathways, known as meridians. These are found throughout your body.

Qi is believed to help keep your body in balance and promote its natural ability to heal itself. A blocked or disrupted flow of qi can negatively impact physical and emotional well-being.

During an acupuncture session, very thin needles are inserted into your skin to stimulate certain points, based on the symptoms you’re addressing. This stimulation, according to TCM, helps to clear blockages along your meridians, restoring the flow of qi through your body.

TCM separates tinnitus into five categories based on the type of disruption to your qi.

For example, one potential cause of tinnitus is imbalance in the kidneys or gallbladder, since qi pathways run between these parts of your body and your ears. As a result, some acupuncturists might use abdominal points that address kidney imbalances.

But in general, acupuncture for tinnitus usually focuses on points in your ear.

The following points are typically used to help reduce effects of tinnitus:

  • Ermen (TB21)
  • Tinggong (SI19)
  • Tinghui (GB2)
  • Shangguan (GB3)
  • Yindu (KI19)
  • Taixi (KI3)
  • Fengchi (GB20)
  • Yifeng (SJ17)
  • Zhongzhu (SJ3)
  • Waiguan (SJ5)
  • Hegu (LI4)
  • Yanglao (SI6)

A number of studies have looked at acupuncture as a treatment for tinnitus. Results are mixed, but many recent studies suggest acupuncture may decrease the intensity of tinnitus, boosting quality of life.

Results of a 2018 study looking at 88 adults with tinnitus suggest that acupuncture could help make tinnitus sounds quieter and less severe.

A 2016 review of existing studies similarly found that acupuncture likely helps with tinnitus. However, the authors noted that some of the studies they looked at were flawed and potentially biased. In addition, these studies often used different points, so it’s hard to compare their results.

Still, there’s no evidence that acupuncture will make tinnitus worse, so it may be worth trying if you’re interested.

When performed by a trained and experienced acupuncturist, acupuncture is fairly safe, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

But if acupuncture isn’t performed correctly or needles aren’t sterile, you may be at risk for serious side effects. Licensed acupuncturists in the United States must use disposable needles, so receiving acupuncture from a licensed professional should minimize your risk of complications. Find a licensed practitioner in your own state through your board of health.

Some people do experience mild side effects after an acupuncture, session, including:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • pain or tenderness around the involved areas

It’s also best to avoid acupuncture if you:

  • are pregnant, as some points can induce labor
  • have a pacemaker, which could be affected by the mild electric pulse that’s sometimes used with acupuncture needles
  • take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder

If you’ve decided to give acupuncture a try, it’s essential to choose a qualified acupuncturist. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers licensing programs and examinations, but specific licensing requirements vary by state.

When looking for an acupuncturist, keep in mind that a licensed acupuncturist is not the same as a certified acupuncturist. Doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals may have certification in acupuncture and a few hundred hours of training, but they may have less experience working with patients.

Licensed acupuncturists, on the other hand, typically have a few thousand hours of training and must treat many of people under supervision before being licensed.

You can also ask your primary care physician for a referral or search the NCCAOM acupuncturist registry. Once you’ve found a provider, you can call your state licensing board to make sure they’re licensed to practice in your state.

Things you might ask before making an appointment include:

  • how long the acupuncturist has been working with clients
  • whether they’ve treated sinus issues with acupuncture before
  • how long treatment will take
  • whether they accept insurance or offer a sliding-scale payment system

If you’re worried about pain or discomfort, let them know. They may be able to address your concerns and help you feel more comfortable before your first session.

Even if the acupuncturist you choose accepts insurance, not all insurance providers cover acupuncture, so it’s a good idea to call your provider to find out if they’ll cover acupuncture treatments — and if so, how many.

Acupuncture may be an effective way to manage tinnitus symptoms, though there’s room for more high-quality research. If you decide to try acupuncture, make sure you’ve already seen your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of your tinnitus.