Holistic medicine is a healing practice that treats the person as a whole. It takes into account not just the physical body, but also emotions, and possible ailments. Its practices are becoming more widely sought out by people in the United States, especially those looking for cost-effective treatment options for anxiety or other issues. One of these options is ear seeding. Using ear seeds for anxiety provides a hands-on approach that allows many users to find relief.
Ear seeding might be a good fit for you, but of course there are pros and cons to almost any treatment. Learn more about ear seed placement, ear seeding benefits, and get tips from an expert to decide if you want to try them out yourself.
What Are Ear Seeds?
You may have heard of acupuncture, but have you heard of acupressure? Acupressure is a treatment where pressure is applied to specific areas of the body to get relief from pain or to restore health. Ear seeding is a type of acupressure. More specifically, ear seeds are a form of auricular point acupressure (APA), which stems as far back as 500 to 300 B.C. from traditional Chinese medicine. Instead of using traditional acupuncture needles, the practice of ear seeding is based on the use of small, round seeds that allow people to squeeze, instead of poke.
Ear seeds are placed in specific locations throughout the outer ear with adhesive tape. They allow you to practice self-acupressure by massaging and applying pressure to the seeds. According to Dr. Nell Smircina, DAOM, board member for the American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA), "ear seeding is commonly used by acupuncturists and provides a whole-person, comprehensive approach to health that people are looking for."
Types of Ear Seeds
Most ear seeds are made from vacarria seeds that are attached to an adhesive, but they can also be made from iron, stainless steel, or magnets. Different types of ear seeds are used for different types of treatment and last for varying amounts of time.
The intended use of vacarria seeds in traditional Chinese medicine varies widely. Some use the ear seeds as a pain remedy for conditions like chronic lower back pain or while undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy. Studies have found that ear seeds can have a positive impact on well-being and also may reduce symptoms of acute pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, tiredness, and other conditions.
Acupuncture and ear seeding complement each another and enhance each other's effects. Therefore, acupuncturists often place ear seeds after a person receives an acupuncture treatment. The cost of an acupuncture treatment can vary significantly, but published reports have suggested that a typical visit costs about $112.
"If you go in for acupuncture treatment, they likely won't charge you for ear seeding to supplement the treatment," says Dr. Smircina. That being said, prices can vary depending on whether you purchase them online due to the different materials they are made out of, as well as some ear seeds including more elements of fashion, such as crystals, that make them look more like piercings.
How Ear Seeds Work
Ear seeds and acupressure work by activating acupoints across meridians. Acupoints are points on the body that are stimulated in order to adjust organ function and maintain homeostasis or balance. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Complementary Medicine, meridians are channels within the body that help to maintain Qi . Qi is a term used to broadly define energy. Acupressure works on meridians to correct the imbalance between Qi and maintain "the steadiness of health condition."
Each meridian in the body is connected to different tissues and organs. Acupressure also releases muscular tension and brings balance to the flow of physiological energy. It may also reduce pain at the location site and throughout the body. According to Dr. Smircina, "It's an intentional check-in with your health."
Ear Seed Placement
Ear seeds are placed on specific acupoints throughout the ear that are linked to different parts of the body and have positive effects. According to Dr Smircina, an anxiety ear seed placement chart shows the different acupoints throughout the ear and lists where they are linked to throughout the body. The chart may also show the benefits associated with each acupoint. "In clinical practice, acupuncturists would want to find the underlying cause for symptoms that a person is experiencing and then work from there," says Dr. Smircina. 'There's no one size fits all."
For example, she says that the vagus nerve helps the entire body to relax and connects to the ear. Another point called Shen Men, is commonly used for stress, and Point Zero, the dead center of the ear is a common point to help people regulate and de-stress.
Benefits of Ear Seeds
Research has found several benefits associated with using ear seeds for a variety of mental and physical health conditions. Ear seeding has been found to increase relaxation and help improve:
- Primary insomnia
- Self-reported quality of life
- Symptoms of anxiety and other anxiety disorders
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Although there have been several studies reporting the positive effects of ear seeding, more high quality studies are needed. Some researchers, including the authors of a review published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, have expressed concern about methodology and potential bias in studies that have reported benefits of ear seeding. This does not mean that ear seeds can't provide positive effects, but it does mean that researchers are still trying to understand the full range of effects that the treatment provides.
How to Use Ear Seeds for Anxiety
Because ear seeds are designed to supplement acupuncture treatments, Dr. Smircina recommends that you visit an acupuncturist to receive treatment. Then the ear seeds will be placed by a professional who knows exactly where the best acupoints are for you. If an in-person meeting is not an option, she says that a practitioner may be able to talk you through ear seeding by using a virtual medical visit.
Once ear seeds are in place, they are available for you to press when you need relief from anxiety or other symptoms. "People can activate ear seeds themselves and be intentional," says Dr. Smircina. This means that if you're feeling anxious and your ear seeds have been placed on an acupoint that is linked to relieving anxiety, then you can squeeze that seed before, during, or after you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Dr. Smircina says that anyone can buy ear seeds online, self-apply, and see some kind of result. But she adds that placing your own ear seeds may provide a lighter effect than ear seeds placed by a professional after an acupunture treatment. When ear seeds aren't placed by a professional there's no guarantee that the seed has been placed on the correct acupoint.
If you are placing ear seeds by yourself, Dr. Smircina recommends using points that are easier to find, like Shen Men and Point Zero. Ear seeding charts show Shen Men to be located towards the top of the ear near the anti-helix (the prominent band of cartilage that runs vertically along the outer ear), while Point Zero is located more towards the center of the ear. If you use points like these that are easier to find, you are more likely to put the seeds in the correct area and experience positive effects.
Also, Dr.Smircina says that it is important to clean the ear thoroughly with alcohol beforehand as the ear can easily get infected. The alcohol also helps the ear become dry, which can allow the adhesive to stick better.
Maintenance and Removal
According to Dr. Smircina, ear seeds can stay on for several days and up to a week. Ear seed adhesive is waterproof, which means that people can wear them while showering, swimming, or sweating.
Dr. Smircina says that removing ear seeds sound not be painful. She compares it to removing a band-aid and adds that the edges of the adhesive tape will begin to lift when they are ready to be removed. Some types of ear seeds made from organic materials (such as vaccaria or mustard plants) can dissolve on their own beneath the adhesive tape.
Possible Side Effects of Ear Seeds
"Ear seeds are pretty safe, and won't cause any serious problems, even if you are doing them yourself," reassures Dr. Smircina. Some studies on possible adverse effects of ear seeds found that people using them may experience:
- Local skin irritation and discomfort
- Mild tenderness or pain
Should You Try Ear Seeding For Anxiety?
If you struggle with anxiety or stress, ear seeds may be a good fit for you. For some people they bring immediate or even long-term relief to symptoms. They can also give you a sense of autonomy and empowerment in your symptom management. Ear seeds are self-operated (even when they placed by a professional) and can be used whenever and wherever you need them.
Dr. Smircina says that you will get the best results if you visit an acupuncturist for a traditional treatment and then supplement with ear seeding. You can search for a licensed acupuncturist through the American Society of Acupuncturists to find a practitioner near you. If you try ear seeding through self-application, aim for spots on the ear that are easier to find, and if you find that the seeds are helpful, consider scheduling an appointment with an acupuncturist to explore more treatment options, or learn more about those hard-to-find acupoints.