Have You Tried Ear Seeds?
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Ear seeds are popping up on social media and in massage studios as the latest trend culled from traditional Chinese medicine. Modern practitioners claim that ear seeds, when combined with acupuncture, can help fight everything from headaches and insomnia to indigestion and allergies.
Could these tiny, painless external ear applications help improve your health?
What are ear seeds?
Ear seeds are natural or synthetic seeds or very small stickers that a therapist applies to the outer ears to stimulate various pressure points in a practice called auricular point acupressure (APA or ear acupressure).
APA is a branch of auriculotherapy (ear acupuncture), which places needles on the same ear acupoints.
“In ancient China, they used mustard seeds or other types of actual seeds,” says Anisha Durve, D.O.M., AP, a doctor of Oriental Medicine and practitioner at the Osher Center for Integrative Health, part of the University of Miami Health System.
“Modern-day acupuncturists like me use silver, gold, or titanium pellets that are smaller, easier to apply, stay in place longer, and are less visible. They are quite discrete and comfortable.”
How do ear seeds work?
“We first make a diagnosis using Chinese Medicine terminology. When evaluating a new patient, I use pulse and tongue diagnoses. I also review the patient’s health history and discuss their symptoms,” Dr. Durve says.
Ear seeds, in conjunction with acupuncture, may help relieve the following health conditions:
- addiction and substance abuse
- appetite and metabolism regulation
- blood pressure control (in conjunction with other efforts)
- digestive disorders/gastrointestinal issues (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain)
- fertility issues (targets the ovaries, balances hormones)
- nervous system instability (for emotional disorders)
- pain (e.g., musculoskeletal, sciatic)
- sinus and respiratory issues (allergies and asthma)
- skin problems (acne, hives, rashes)
“According to traditional Chinese medicine, we have energy points on our ears. We look at the ear as a microsystem, if you will, of the entire body. We have a visual map of this system.”
Ear seeds were created to stimulate or activate points on the ear that correspond to specific organs and bodily systems.
Based on the patient’s Chinese Medicine diagnosis and ongoing treatment efforts, acupuncturists strategically apply five or six seeds per ear to sterilized skin.
They advise patients to gently press on each seed (or the sticker covering it) for 10 seconds at least once each day.
But, Dr. Durve says you can apply pressure to ear seeds as many times per day as you want to maximize the effects.
Patients should activate their ear seeds at times that correlate with the condition being treated. For instance, if you’re using ear seeds to reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches, “the seeds can be used as a headache initiates, or they might prevent a headache from coming on together,” she says.
“For insomnia, you should press on them before bedtime. For digestive disorders, before or after eating. For smoking cessation, I advise patients to press on the corresponding seeds for one minute when experiencing a craving.”
The seeds stay in place for three to five days until patients peel them off.
“Following weekly acupuncture sessions, I reapply the seeds each week until they are no longer needed based on the patient’s results,” Dr. Durve says. “They can fall off while showering or sleeping, but that’s typically not a problem. If you stimulate the ear seeds daily, they stay in place well.”
How effective are ear seeds?
It’s important to note that ear seeds are not an effective stand-alone or primary treatment. They are intended for use with corresponding professional acupuncture or auriculotherapy sessions to address the same ailments.
“Ear seeds support the work I’m already doing with acupuncture,” says Dr. Durve.
Their effectiveness has not been widely tested, as they are considered companion therapy to other traditional treatments as part of integrative medicine.
Many acupuncture and auriculotherapy patients also seek diagnoses and treatments from Western medicine. Alternative therapies can supplement conventional medical interventions, other therapeutic modalities, and pharmaceutical medications.
Integrative medicine enhances conventional treatments and benefits patients.Anisha Durve, D.O.M. (Doctor of Oriental Medicine)
Patients experience the most significant benefits when making healthy lifestyle choices (including diet, exercise, quality sleep, not smoking, and stress reduction).
“Most of my patients find ear seeds effective,” Dr. Durve says.
“Nine out of 10 reports liking them. These patients are already giving acupuncture a try, so the addition of ear seeds isn’t so foreign. Most are open to it. It’s not perceived like it was 20 years ago in the U.S.”
Dana Kantrowitz is a regular contributor for UHealth’s news service.