Ear Seeds for Kids—Everything Parents Need to Know

Ear seeds have been trending, but this traditional Chinese medicine technique has been around for thousands of years. Here's what ear seeds are and how they can help.

A girl with her eyes closed in a field.

Irina Ozhigova / Stocksy

In her practice, Gudrun Snyder, a doctor of East Asian acupuncture, often uses ear seeds on her patients. She also uses the small seeds or beads, which are applied to acupuncture points on the ear, on herself and on her two kids—ages 7 and 4. And while the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique dates back thousands of years, parents today are starting to learn more about the therapeutic practice. 

“Sometimes I'll be going for a playdate and the other moms are like, ‘Oh, can you bring the ear seeds so we could do them on all the kids?” says Snyder, D.Ac., MSAc, LAc, founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in Chicago. “It's an easy, fun way for the kids to be involved in their health and it's effective.”

Ear seeds have recently been trending on TikTok, with the #earseeds hashtag being viewed more than 93 million times, so it's likely your kid has come across them. For Snyder, whose grandmother is from Shanghai, China, and father was a physician who believed in acupuncture, it’s been part of her life since she was a young child. She believes in the benefits of ear seeds and wants parents to know it can help their children deal with certain problems, like anxiety and digestive issues.

Here’s what your family needs to know about ear seeds.

What Are Ear Seeds?

In ancient Asia, seeds from an herb called vaccaria were placed on acupressure points on the ears to treat various issues throughout the body. These days, gold or silver beads, crystals, and other materials are often also used for this painless form of auriculotherapy.

“Ear seeding works in the same way that an acupuncture treatment works,” explains Snyder, who treats children as young as 4 in her practice. But instead of using needles, ear seeds are placed on the ear with adhesive stickers.

Why the Ear?

In Chinese medicine, the ear is powerful; it’s considered a microsystem of the body. “We use the ear to treat just about every location of the body,” says Megan Scott, LAc, a licensed acupuncturist with the Cleveland Clinic’s center for integrative medicine. That includes body extremities, the spinal region, organs, and different brain functions. 

What to Expect When Getting Ear Seeds Applied

Treatment with ear seeds is typically patient-focused. “A patient will come in, they will tell us what their main complaint is, and then much like any type of clinical appointment, we will ask questions to get a better understanding of how they're experiencing things and how it translates into traditional Chinese medicine,” explains Scott. “We diagnose from there, and then we create a treatment plan. That person will then have that auriculotherapy based on their unique needs.”

While some clinics perform ear seeding on its own, at the Cleveland Clinic ear seeds are used to complement acupuncture. Needles act a strong stimulus for points in the body. “An ear seed, or any type of bead placed on the body, would act as more of a low level constant stimulus for the system,” says Scott. For example, if a child comes in to see her for acupuncture to deal with allergies or asthma, they may leave the clinic with a few beads to help respiratory function and improve resilience during a tough allergy season. 

After leaving a clinic, many acupuncturists recommend people very gently press on the ear seeds throughout the day for more stimulation. It’s important not to apply too much force so the skin isn't irritated and beads don't get dislodged. Scott recommends patients do this if they are feeling a spike in their pain, for example, and need an increased level of stimulation. 

How Long Should Kids Keep Ear Seeds On?

It’s typically recommended to keep ear seeds on for no more than five days. But some acupuncturists like Scott recommend a maximum of three days since things like bathing, sweating, and having greasy skin can wear away at the adhesive. To remove them, people can simply just pull them gently off their ear.

Ear Seeds Benefits

Ear seeds are believed to help ease symptoms of various conditions, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, and pain. It can even be used to treat addiction. “I have patients that are using the ear treatment for addiction; they're trying to quit smoking,” says Scott. “Adults will come and they'll do acupuncture, and then they'll leave with these seeds because they can decrease cravings.”

Scott, who treats children as young as 6 at the Cleveland Clinic, says returning patients, including kids, have seen improvements in their ability to relax, pain, digestive issues like upset tummies, constipation, and nausea, as well as motion sickness.

Snyder says she seen similar results with her own children and young patients at Moon Rabbit Acupuncture. She also says she's seen children become empowered because they feel they are playing a part in their own health.

Rashmi Jain, M.D., a concierge pediatrician in Irvine, California and founder of BabiesMD, isn’t opposed to parents using safe complementary or alternate approaches to treating things like anxiety or pain in children. “While research on the benefits of ear seeds is limited, there is data (albeit in small sample sizes) to suggest relief of pain and anxiety when used in children and even tiny infants in the neonatal intensive care unit," she says. "Given its topical application and non-invasive approach, it is very reasonable to try auriculotherapy in children who are experiencing anxiety, pain, or apprehension.”

Rebecca Fisk, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital in the Northwell System, adds, “There are not many large medical studies published that attest to defined benefits of ear seeding in these conditions; there is limited information in children. Yet TCM has hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence for treating and perhaps reducing symptoms of many of these physical and psychological conditions."

But parents should keep certain important factors in mind. For one, Dr. Jain emphasizes that some children may need more help to manage their anxiety and it’s important for parents to be in tune with their child’s emotions to see if further treatment like therapy or medication is needed. 

Dr. Fisk also says parents should know this isn’t a cure-all, just a practice that may help ease symptoms in a variety of circumstances. “I would caution patience and advise trying such a treatment with the understanding that it likely would require multiple treatments/visits,” she says. Dr. Fisk has used acupuncture and ear seeds for migraine supportive therapy herself, but it required regular treatments over several months. She says it helped her get better and allowed her to take less medication.

Ear Seeds Risks

Ear seeds are generally safe. But for some, they can cause irritation because of a sensitivity to the material used. The treatment can potentially cause dizziness or nausea if a wrong point is stimulated, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

There is also a rare risk of losing an ear seed in the ear canal, another reason why Scott recommends patients do not go longer than three days with them on. That’s a fear for Dr. Jain, too. “As a pediatrician, my mind does monitor for safety. Small seeds like these can get dislodged and end up in the ear canal requiring removal in a physician's office,” she says. “Additionally, if these seeds fall on the ground, they can pose a choking hazard for infants and young children.” Also, Scott adds that keeping an ear seed on too long can potentially cause it to become embedded in the skin.

Dr. Fisk adds, “I would exercise caution in those children whose parents feel their child might fidget with the ear seed due to concern for moving its position or affecting the adherence of the overlying tape, as this can increase the risk of the seed falling into the ear canal.”

Where to Get Ear Seeds

While ear seeds are sold online, experts recommend going to a trained acupuncturist to place them on the ear. “The ear is a pretty complex place that's why it's so valuable to have the actual practitioner who is very knowledgeable about the function, and how these points are combined to create an individualized treatment for you,” says Scott.

But after initially being treated by a licensed acupuncturist, patients may go home with a map showing them where to apply ear seeds in the future. 

The Bottom Line

Ear seeds are a safe treatment that can potentially lessen symptoms of anxiety, stress, insomnia, pain, and more in children, teens, and adults. It's important to go to a licensed acupuncturist to have them applied. But always monitor a child's symptoms to make sure they don't need more support for their issues.

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