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Ear Acupuncture FAQ

Richard A. Feely, D.O., FAAO, FCA, FAAMA

Q. What is ear acupuncture?

A. Ear acupuncture is needle stimulation to the auricle, or external ear, using fine acupuncture needles.

Q. What is auriculotherapy?

A. Auricular therapy is needle-less stimulation of the auricle, or external ear, using electrical probe for alleviating pain, dysfunction and disease as manifest in other parts of the body.

Auricular therapy uses electricity to diagnose auricular acupoints. It uses electricity, laser or colored filters to treat auricular acupoints. It is performed by a physician, acupuncturist or therapist.

Auricular therapy is the bioenergetic and biomechanical approach to wholistic health care and pain management. It is a form of needle-less acupuncture. It is a diagnostic method and a therapeutic treatment of the microsystem. It is rooted in acupuncture teachings and research and it is the easiest and most “western” approach to acupuncture.

Q. How does auriculotherapy work?

A. Auriculotherapy works by stimulating the central nervous system through the cranial nerves/spinal nerves on the auricle of the ear. This stimulation results in neurotransmitters being stimulated within the periactal ductal gray and pituitary and spinal cord of the central nervous system. This stimulation of neurotransmitters modulates the pain and modulates nerve function beginning the healing process within the body to that organ or body part.

Q. Does auriculotherapy hurt?

A. Using acupuncture needles on the ear, pain may last one to three seconds with the placing of the needle. Otherwise, acupuncture needles should not hurt on the ear. If electrical stimulation is used or lasers are used on the ears, there should be little to no pain at all perceived by the patient.

Q. What problems is auriculotherapy good for?

A. Auriculotherapy is good for acute painful problems alleviating pain almost immediately or within 24 to 48 hours. Auricle therapy is good for chronic degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic painful conditions like spinal stenosis and other chronic central nervous system conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Other conditions include diseases and dysfunctions of the gastrointestinal, genital urinary and cardiovascular systems. Auricular therapy should not take the place of acute orthodox medical care in life threatening situations.

Q. How frequently should I be treated?

A. In most cases, treatment for most chronic conditions may be treated once or twice per weeks. However, in some acute conditions and very serious conditions auriculotherapy may be applied daily for approximately one week to 10 days.

Q. How does one perform auriculotherapy?

A. It is performed by a therapist using electrical means to diagnose auricular acupoints. There are over 200 auricular acupoints on each ear that represent all parts of the body and many functional areas of the human organism. These points represent anatopical and neurological and physiological functions.

The physician therapist uses a hand held wand and a diagnostic probe similar to a pen that measures differences in skin conductivity between the hand and the acupoint on the ear. The positive and negative polarity of that relationship and if it is extremely negative or extremely positive, with the touch of a button, the instrument stimulates the ear with electrical stimulation either positively or negatively as needed. With this, the physician auricular therapist will be able to diagnose pain, dysfunction and disease whether it be somatic, visceral or psychological in origin. These diagnostic aids, through research performed at UCLA, prove to be quite accurate for a simple test — one study yielding over 75% accuracy in a double-blind study.

People who do not want ear acupuncture or auricular therapy should, obviously, not have it, but it would be wise for anyone with the following conditions to abstain from ear acupuncture or auricular therapy. These conditions include:

  1. First trimester pregnancy
  2. First two months of constitutional homeopathic treatment
  3. Patients with pacemaker or spinal cord stimulator
  4. Neonates children less than one day old
  5. Patients with no external ear
  6. Individuals with a known genetic abnormalities of CCK enzyme produced in the central nervous system. (This enzyme, which is produced in the brain, neutralizes the neuroprotiens that are released with acupuncture. Only a very small percentage of the population is affected. As of today, there is no simple test to identify these patients other than a trial of acupuncture or auricular therapy.

Q. Are there side effects?

A. The primary side effect of ear acupuncture or auricular therapy is tenderness or inflammation to the ear itself. Auricular therapy and acupuncture generally have almost no side effects, especially if one is using auricular therapy with electrical stimulation. If the therapist is using the Elector-Therapy Association's guidelines for treatment, there are virtually no negative side effects.

Infection is possible when the skin is pierced with the acupuncture needle, but is almost never heard of in auricular therapy. If the patient is afraid of needles, auricular therapy, rather than ear acupuncture should be performed.

Q. What does research show about auricular acupuncture?

A. In the 1980s, Drs. Oleson, Kroening, and Bresler, UCLA, in a paper entitled, “An experimental evaluation of auricular diagnosis: The somatotopic mapping of the musculoskeletal pain at the ear acupuncture points.” This study verified the somatotopic auricular map in a blinded experiment using electrical skin conductivity to 40 musculoskeletal pain subjects with a 75.2% accuracy. (Reference: PAIN, 8, 1980, PP. 217-229.)

1985 UCLA Kroening and Oleson, “Rapid narcotic detoxification and chronic pain patients with auricular electro acupuncture and Maloxon.” Twelve out of 14 chronic pain subjects, or 85.7%, were completely withdrawn from narcotic medication within two to seven days with no side effects through the use of auricular electrical stimulation and acupuncture needling of two auricular points used. (Reference: International Journal of Addictions, 20 (9), PP. 1347-1360, 1985.)

1993, UCLA, Drs. Simmons and Oleson, “Auricular electrical stimulation and dental pain thresholds.” Auricular electrical stimulation increased dental threshold by 19% and was partially reversed by Maloxone. (Reference: American Dental Society of Anesthesiology, 4:14-19, 1993.)

1993, Drs. Oleson and Flocco, “Randomized control study of premenstrual syndromes triggered with ear, hand and foot reflexology.” Results show a significant decrease of 46% in premenstrual symptoms from true reflexology compared with placebo. (Reference: Obstetrics and Gynecology, 86, NO. 6, DEC 1993, PP. 906-911.) inhibitory system.

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