Ear Seeds For Anxiety: Do They Really Work?
Oct 9, 2023, 7 min read
On the ongoing journey to tackle anxiety, many of us look for alternative options that could offer a confidence boost. While you explore tried-and-tested therapy and/or medications to help ease your anxiety, you may also be interested in some other wellness products that claim to be able to help. Here, we’re putting ‘ear seeds’ under the microscope.
This popular product has been a recent TikTok trend, with the hashtag #earseeds gaining over 140.2 million views at the time of writing. Keep reading to find out what they are, what they do, if they actually work for anxiety, and more. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll also share a few other steps you can take to ease your anxiety.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about anxiety treatments, we’re here to help.
What are ‘ear seeds’?
The theory behind ear seeds comes from the idea of auricular acupressure, a type of acupressure carried out on the outer ear. Tiny metal or ceramic beads are placed on particular pressure points around the ear, and – based on the same principles as traditional Chinese medicine – stimulate energy called ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’), which flows along our internal ‘meridians’.
Meridian lines can be found throughout our bodies, but there are many located in the ear. By applying pressure to certain points, the meridian is supposedly unblocked and the 'qi' is able to 'flow freely' throughout the body.
Ear seeds are thought to help with a number of health issues, such as
- Sleeping issues, such as insomnia
- Chronic pain, particularly in the lower back
- Fertility issues
- Migraines and headaches
- Weight loss
While some buy and apply ear seeds on their own, there are many acupuncturists and other professionals who also provide the service, and may offer a more precise application. There are over 200 acupressure points on the ear, so it can be difficult to identify the perfect spot if trying it yourself!
How do ear seeds work?
Auricular acupressure is thought to work by positioning ear seeds in the correct spots on the surface of the outer ear. These can be applied with tape to ensure they stay on, and can often stay secure for several days.
When used for behavioural health, emotional trauma and addictions, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) advises a protocol which includes five points:
- Autonomic point: Said to relax you and calm the nervous system
- Shen men: This point is also known as ‘Spirit Gate’, and is said to reduce anxiety
- Kidney point: This point is thought to heal internal organs and helps ease fear
- Liver point: This point is used for detox and purifying the blood, and is said to minimise aggression
- Lung point: This point is said to improve the movement of air through the lungs and help with releasing emotions of grief
Do ear seeds actually work for anxiety?
“...my anxiety was pretty much subdued by the next day” - Staff Writer at InStyle
Acupuncture and acupressure practices have always been in question as a legitimate treatment option, however the World Health Organization convened this year for its first ever high-level worldwide summit to discuss and explore the evidence behind traditional medicine. While it did not specifically feature evidence on the practice of applying ear seeds, acupressure was on the agenda, which might suggest there could be scope for researching these treatments and utilising them more in future.
Concerning ear seeds, there is not a great deal of clinical evidence to suggest they can treat anxiety, and many existing studies are often of poor clinical quality. However, this is not to say they do not work, only that there is not yet enough evidence to support their use for anxiety.
On the other hand, there are quality studies suggesting that acupuncture, acupressure, and specifically auricular acupressure may work. Research found brain imaging studies showed several neurotransmitters are released during acupressure, and thought to have a positive effect on stress, pain and anxiety.
This appears to be supported by a 2018 study looking at ear acupressure for anxiety experienced by pregnant women during labour. The study showed promising results and led to researchers recommending the therapy. Furthermore, a 2020 review of studies looked at the evidence in 24 pieces of scientific literature on the effects of auriculotherapy, and found 92% showed its positive effects for stress, anxiety or depression, so it would seem further research into ear acupressure could be useful.
As with many alternative therapies, such as the daith piercing or reflexology, they can be considered useful additional therapies, meaning they should be used alongside other science-backed treatments to boost their effectiveness, but never as a replacement.
Do ear seeds have any other potential?
It also appeared to have potential benefits for ADHD, after an 8-week ear acupuncture intervention improved the auditory vigilance subscale and the auditory prudence subscale in children with ADHD. Similar positive results were recorded after a 2-week study involving ear acupuncture helped to significantly reduce pregnancy-related pain in women.
When it comes to ear seeds specifically, one 2013 study found that after 4 weeks of ear seed use on 19 subjects with chronic lower back pain, those who received the therapy experienced a 75% reduction in overall pain intensity, with the benefits lasting past their one-month follow-up check up.
While this cannot conclusively prove that ear seeds work for all of the above conditions, there is certainly enough evidence to suggest it has potential as an alternative therapy option that could support the ongoing treatment of patients in a number of areas.
Could ear seeds just cause a placebo effect?
The placebo effect is a phenomenon whereby a ‘pretend’ medical intervention can cause an improvement in the patient's condition due to their perception of the intervention. In other words, subjects hope that a positive change will take place, therefore it does.
Certain factors could contribute to the positive results found with ear seeds, such as the physical touch and communication from the acupuncturist applying them. This can be comforting enough to ease feelings of anxiety.
Even if ear seeds have no scientific backing, if they make you feel better and do not pose a threat to your health, there is no reason not to use them if they work for you.
Are there any risks to using ear seeds?
Ear seeds are thought to be generally safe to use, as long as they are properly attached. The only things to watch out for are:
- Experiencing a skin reaction to the adhesive (if this occurs, remove your ear seeds).
- An ear seed detaching and falling into the ear canal (if this occurs, consult your doctor as soon as you can to avoid infections or swelling).
- Excessive pain, bleeding, infections, or dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop using ear seeds immediately and contact your doctor.
How to get treatment for anxiety
If you regularly feel anxious and are concerned you may need to address this with a professional, it’s best to start by speaking to a specialist who can identify the kind of anxiety you have, suggest a research-backed treatment, and support you to work on easing your anxiety and its symptoms.
You can visit your GP to start this process or reach out to a private healthcare professional who specialises in anxiety. Our free 15 minute consultation can help match you with the best practitioner for you.
You may also find it useful to read our article on the different types of anxiety, and when to seek help.
How to cope with day-to-day anxiety
If you feel inspired to try ear seeds as a way of coping with your anxiety, there is no harm in doing so as long as you do not avoid other treatments in favour of this. Some other helpful coping strategies for anxiety include:
- Talking: By talking to someone, you can process your emotions better and share what’s on your mind, which can give you another viewpoint to consider, or could help guide you to a solution.
- Stick to a healthy lifestyle: Did you know research has linked healthy eating to reduced anxiety? Make healthy changes (such as getting more sleep, eating less processed food, and so on) and monitor if your anxiety improves as a result.
- Move: Studies have determined physical activity can ease or treat anxiety disorders. Add things like yoga, swimming or a long walk to your weekly routine.
- Step away from social media: Anxiety can be increased by spending too much time on social media, so avoid this as much as you can or set usage limits.
- Mindfulness: Try deep breathing, meditation, journaling or something similar to calm your body during stressful periods.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader private mental health care.
If you have a question about anxiety, or are just wondering what the point of life is, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.