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Ear seeds are small seeds used to stimulate pressure points in your ear. They’re a type of auriculotherapy, which refers to acupressure or acupuncture focused on the ear.

They’re based on the same general principles as acupuncture. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your health depends on the flow of qi (energy) in your body.

According to TCM, this energy travels along invisible pathways, known as meridians. Meridians are found throughout your body, including your ears.

Ear seeds are placed on certain points, usually along meridian lines, to help clear up any qi blockages. In TCM, resolving these blockages may help with a variety of health conditions.

Read on to learn more about ear seeds, including their potential benefits and how to use them.

People claim ear seeds help with a range of health issues, including:

Some people use ear seeds on their own. Others use them between professional acupuncture or acupressure appointments.

While it’s possible to place ear seeds yourself, it’s usually best to see a trained acupuncturist for your first time.

They can go over the symptoms you’d like to address and help you find the corresponding points on your ear. They can also show you how to properly place the seeds.

Traditionally, ear seeds come from the flowering herb vaccaria. But today, you can also find metal or ceramic beads.

Most acupuncturists who do ear seed placement have their own seeds, but you can also purchase your own online.

If you do want to try them yourself, follow these steps:

  1. Clean and dry the outside of your ear. Ear seeds should always go on the outside of your ear, never in your ear canal.
  2. Identify the correct point. Some ear seed kits come with charts showing the location of specific points. An acupuncturist can also help you locate the best points for your needs.
  3. Use tweezers to apply the ear seed to the point on your ear. Ear seeds typically come pre-attached to adhesive tape; try not to touch the sticky side of the tape. Press gently on the tape to make sure it sticks.
  4. Massage ear seeds gently. Do this two to three times each day or when you have symptoms. Apply pressure by rubbing the seeds with a circular motion for one to three minutes.
  5. Change them regularly. Ear seeds may fall off on their own after about three to five days. It’s not recommended to leave them on for more than five days, even if they’re still in place.
  6. Remove them. You can use tweezers or your nails. To make sure seeds don’t fall into your ear canal, tilt your head so your ear faces the ground before taking them off. If a seed does fall into your ear and doesn’t come out, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

It’s a good idea to let your skin rest between ear seed placements. Try to wait a day (at least eight hours) before using new ear seeds.

While using ear seeds, check your ears each day for signs of irritation, such as:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • soreness
  • tenderness

Remove the seeds right away if you notice any of these symptoms.

There aren’t many high-quality studies about ear seeds and other forms of auriculotherapy.

However, the few that do exist suggest ear seeds may be beneficial for certain conditions, especially when used alongside other treatments. More research is needed to fully explore the benefits and side effects, though.

Low back pain

Results of a 2013 study looking at 19 people living with chronic low back pain suggest ear seeds could help reduce pain and improve mobility.

Participants were randomly divided into two groups. The first group had ear seeds placed on points associated with low back pain. The second group had ear seeds placed in random points on the ear.

The first group noticed better results than the second group after four weeks of treatment. Participants in the first group noted an overall decrease in pain intensity of 75 percent. The improvement lasted for at least a month.

Insomnia

A 2015 literature review looked at 15 studies on auricular acupuncture with ear seeds for insomnia. Together, the studies indicated that the combination of ear seeds and acupuncture seemed to reduce insomnia symptoms.

However, the authors of the review noted several flaws in studies they analyzed, including small sample sizes, low-quality study models, and potential biases.

Pain tolerance

A 2015 study compared the minimum and maximum sensations of pain felt by 16 healthy people before and after using ear seeds. The results suggest that using ear seeds could increase pain tolerance.

Keep in mind that pain tolerance refers to how much pain a person can withstand. This is different from a pain threshold, which is the point at which someone starts feeling pain.

Ear seeds are generally safe. They’re noninvasive and don’t require the use of needles, so there’s a much lower risk of infection or bleeding compared to acupuncture.

However, if you have sensitive skin or a latex allergy, metal seeds or adhesive tape might cause some irritation. If your skin tends to get irritated by metal, stick with ceramic or vaccaria seeds.

Some people also develop small sores around the seeds. This is often due to massaging the seeds too frequently or not letting the ears rest before applying new seeds.

In addition, some people do experience side effects while using ear seeds, including brief spells of:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • drowsiness

While these side effects aren’t very common, it’s best to avoid driving immediately after massaging your ear seeds until you know how your body reacts.

Generally, it’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before trying any new treatment, including ear seeds.

Pregnant?

If you’re pregnant, don’t try ear seeds or other forms of auriculotherapy before talking to your healthcare provider. Some points may induce early labor.

Ear seeds, a type of traditional Chinese medicine related to acupuncture and acupressure, may be a cost-effective approach to complementary treatment.

This is especially the case if you’re interested in acupuncture but prefer a noninvasive approach.

While scientific evidence supporting the benefits of ear seeds is limited, existing research does suggest ear seeds may provide relief from certain things, including insomnia and pain.