Ear seeds are tiny seeds applied to acupuncture points on the ear. This might sound like a flashy wellness trend, but the roots run deep — all the way back to a specific type of traditional Chinese medicine called auriculotherapy.
So, should you go all Johnny Appleseed on your ear lobes? Let’s find out.
Forms of auriculotherapy (aka, ear therapy) have been used for centuries, but it became more standardized in the 1950s. Like acupuncture, auriculotherapy is based on the notion that small points on the body correspond to the whole. And older research from 2010 suggests that, when practiced properly, it really can relieve pain.
Here’s how it works: Traditionally, seeds from the herb Vaccaria are applied to specific points on the outer ear, then kept in place with adhesive. Some practitioners use small ceramic or metal balls instead of seeds. Regardless of the material, the points are massaged a few times.
Ear seed application 101
If you wanna give ear seeds a whirl, see a pro. A licensed acupuncture or acupressure practitioner who knows exactly which pressure points to use will apply the ear seeds based on your health needs. Placement needs to be precise, so DIYing isn’t a great option.
Here’s what to expect on your first go-round:
- Your practitioner should clean your ear with alcohol.
- They’ll apply the seeds or balls with waterproof tape or adhesive.
- You’ll be told to keep the seeds on your outer ear for 3 to 7 days.
- You’ll be instructed to gently massage each seed 2 to 5 times a day. Pressure should feel stimulating, not painful.
For best results, follow your practitioner’s advice on whether it’s OK to self-apply them in the future.
Acupressure with ear seeds has a lot of history and tradition behind it. However, quality scientific studies are lacking.
Here’s what we know about potential benefits.
It relieves pain
The most common (and most scientifically verified) claim for acupuncture is that it can relieve pain.
Peep this research on auriculotherapy for pain relief:
- A 2020 analysis of 14 articles showed that ear seeds effectively reduced musculo-skeletal pain. Though research showed that needles and electrical stimulation *also* dialed down pain, the advantage of seeds is they cause most folks less discomfort than needles.
- In a 2015 study, vaccaria seeds placed on the ears of 16 volunteers were able to tolerate higher pain than they could pre-treatment.
- In 2021, researchers reported that ear acupressure soothed menstrual pain. Participants also reported taking fewer drugs for period pain relief.
It might lower blood pressure
It could dial down anxiety
Does the idea of rubbing little bumps on your ears calm you down? There might be something to it.
In a 2020 research review, 22 out of 24 studies showed that auriculotherapy improved symptoms of:
Researchers acknowledged, however, that the methodology in these studies was weak and more research is needed.
A 2017 study in which 180 participants had 10 sessions of ear therapy spread over 5 weeks found that the treatment reduced both pain and anxiety. Researchers found that though needles were more effective than seeds, seeds cause less discomfort and infection.
It might put you right to sleep
A 2015 meta-analysis of 15 studies suggests that ear acupuncture was more effective at improving sleep than fake acupuncture, medication, or a placebo. However, the quality of the evidence was low due to poor methodology, small sample size, and possible publication bias.
It could offer sneeze relief
Any other benefits?
Maybe! Ear acupressure has been studied for a wide range of health issues. Here’s the scoop:
- In a small study of 89 women, researchers found that auricular acupressure helped with uterine recovery after cesarean section.
- A 12-week study of 54 women undergoing chemotherapy found that ear acupressure improved their quality of life by soothing nausea and vomiting.
- A small study of folks with tinnitus suggests that an external ear acupressure device could improve their symptoms.
As far as medical interventions go, ear seeds are pretty low risk. But there are potential side effects, including:
- Dizziness, sleepiness, nausea. A 2014 review of 43 studies on auricular therapies found that these were the most commonly reported negative side effects.
- Skin irritation. The seeds or adhesive might irritate some people’s skin.
- Allergic reaction. If you have a known latex or metal allergy, talk with your acupuncturist about choosing safe materials. Otherwise, watch for signs of an allergic reaction, such as blotchiness, itching, and hives.
FAQ: Can ear seeds fall in your ear?
Actually, yes. If a foreign object — like a small seed — falls into your ear canal, you might experience injury, hearing loss, or infection.
A 2015 case report describes how an ear seed that had fallen into a woman’s ear passed through a hole in her eardrum. The metallic bead was discovered during a routine MRI. Doctors had to surgically remove the bead.
Acupressure with ear seeds is based on a long history of traditional Chinese medicine. More high quality scientific research is needed to confirm claims that it’s an effective treatment for:
Despite scarce research, ear seeds are a low risk, nonmedicinal therapy. You might find them effective when applied by a professional practitioner.