Auriculotherapy, also called ear acupuncture , applies the principles of acupuncture to specific points on the ear. Auriculotherapists believe that healing processes can be promoted by working with these points on the ear, because the ear contains many blood vessels and nerve endings that, when stimulated, influence the organs and bodily functions.
Acupuncture is one of the world's oldest therapeutic techniques, having its roots in ancient China. Some of the oldest texts of Chinese medicine mention acupuncture points and massage techniques specifically for the ear. For eye problems, silver or gold earrings were sometimes prescribed in ancient times to provide constant healing stimulation at points on the ear, a practice that is still performed in some areas of the world, including parts of Europe. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed that working with the ears could influence health. Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, mentioned a point on the ear that could be operated on as a birth control measure in men. In Europe in the Middle Ages, doctors prescribed surgery on a particular spot on the ear for a condition called sciatica , which causes nerve pain in the hips and thighs.
In modern times, auriculotherapy has been advanced by Paul Nogier of France. Beginning his work and experiments in the 1950s, Nogier laid out an intricate map of points on the ear that correspond to the organs and processes in the body. Nogier believed that the ear is shaped like an upside down human fetus, and the acupuncture points on the ear correspond to the body parts of the fetus shape, with the earlobe representing the head. Nogier theorized that by stimulating these points on the ear, the corresponding organs and bodily processes would be stimulated by nerve impulses. Nogier also theorized that by measuring electrical impulses on the skin of the ear, problems could be detected in the internal organs, and therefore auriculotherapy could be used to diagnose illnesses. Nogier and many followers, including ear acupuncturists in America and China, conducted scientific experiments in auriculotherapy, and showed some significant and surprising results in both treatment and diagnosis of conditions. In 2002, a center in Maine received a unique grant to study auriculotherapy for sub-stance abuse. Although recognizing that acupuncture had been used before for helping those with abuse, this study sought to show that auriculotherapy's effects on relaxation response helped those abusing drugs and alcohol better deal with the anxiety and life circumstances thought to lead them to substance abuse.
Auriculotherapy is a quick, inexpensive, and non-invasive method of pain control. Ear acupuncture is also used as anesthesia during medical procedures. It is used frequently to help people overcome drug, tobacco, and alcohol addictions, and is used to treat chronic health conditions and diseases.
After an initial exam and interview, auriculotherapists begin treatment by checking the patient's ears closely. Practitioners may palpate (feel) the ears with their hands, and check for any irregularities or painful spots. They may check for spots that are insensitive or numb by using cold or hot needles on the ear. They may also rely on electrical devices that measure skin resistance at points on the ear.
Several techniques may be used during auriculotherapy. Acupuncture needles are typically extremely thin. More than one needle may be used at one time, inserted deeply, or just pricked slightly along the contours of the ear. On some points, needles may be twisted or slanted to create more healing effects. Needles may be left in from a few minutes to half an hour or more.
Auriculotherapists may use permanent press needles. These small, tack-shaped needles may be attached to the ear with a narrow band of tape for several days or weeks. They are used for conditions that may require constant stimulation to acupuncture points on the ear, such as addictions, chronic (long-lasting) infections , and other health problems.
Auriculotherapists also practice electroacupuncture , which utilizes electrical devices to send small electrical currents into the ear or through the body. Electroacupuncture is used for conditions such as paralysis or nerve damage in the body, drug and alcohol addictions, and chronic pain. Auriculotherapists may also employ bleeding, which removes one or two drops of blood at certain points on the ear. Bleeding is used for health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol , or heart disease .
Auriculotherapy is generally performed once per week on patients for a sequence of several months, although the frequency of treatment depends on the patient and condition. Treatment may last for several months. The initial visit to an acupuncturist is typically the most expensive, costing from $80 to $200. Follow-up visits are less expensive, from $50 to $100 on average. Auriculotherapists may also prescribe herbal and nutritional remedies. Insurance coverage of acupunture fees varies, depending on individual policies.
Before treatment, an auriculotherapist may perform a thorough examination and interview the patient to determine health conditions and any precautions or adjustments that must be made. Acupuncturists often rely on pulse diagnosis and other diagnostic techniques before and during treatment.
For treatment, the patient should lie in a horizontal position on a comfortable surface in a calm, stress-free environment. After treatment, the patient should be permitted to lie down until feeling capable of leaving the practitioner's office.
Acupuncture needles should be sterilized before use. The ears should be disinfected before acupuncture as well, which is usually done with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Auriculotherapy, like all acupuncture, should not be performed on weak or exhausted patients, nor on those who are very hungry or have just eaten a meal or drunk alcohol. Auriculotherapy should not be performed on pregnant women during the first two trimesters (six months) of pregnancy , and afterwards only on very particular points on the ear for pain control. Auriculotherapy is not recommended for children under seven years old, and should be performed with care on the elderly. Ear acupuncture is to be avoided by those with anemia (low red blood cell quantity in the blood). Patients with nervous conditions should be thoroughly relaxed and prepared before treatment. For people that find acupuncture disagreeable, ear massage and acupressure may be preferable to treatment with needles.
Some patients may experience uncomfortable side effects during or after acupuncture. Side effects that may occur after treatment include fainting, dizziness, nausea , numbness, headaches, sweating, or sharp pains throughout the body. These reactions may be due to anxiety or because acupuncture needles have been inserted too deeply or in the wrong area. Side effects can be alleviated by removing the needles and allowing the patient to lie down under supervision. Some side effects that occur during treatment, such as hot flashes , increased pulse, and temporarily increased symptoms, are considered normal and usually disappear quickly.
Training & certification
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA) was chartered in 1987 to support the education and correct practice of physician-trained acupuncturists. Its members must be either MDs or DOs who have completed proper study of acupuncture techniques.
The National Commission for Certification of Acupuncturists (NCCA) conducts certification exams, promotes national standards, and registers members. Most states that license acupuncturists use the NCCA standards as certification.
The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) is the largest organization for practitioners, with more than 1,600 members.
Fleischman, Dr. Gary. Acupuncture: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 1998.
Hicks, Angela. Thorson's Principles of Acupuncture. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Requena, Yves, MD. Terrains and Pathology in Acupuncture. Massachusetts: Paradigm, 1986.
American Journal of Acupuncture. 1840 41st Ave., Suite 102, P.O. Box 610, Capitola, CA 95010.
Savage, Lorraine. "Grant to Study Acupuncture's Effectiveness on Patients Suffering from Substance Abuse." Healthcare Review. (March 19, 2002): 16.
American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. 5820 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (213) 937-5514.
American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. 433 Front St., Catasaugua, PA 18032, (610) 266-1433.
National Commission for Certification of Acupuncturists. 1424 16th St. NW, Suite 501, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 232-1404.
Teresa G. Odle