Some proponents of acupuncture claim that the needle-based Chinese therapy can help treat seasonal allergies (also known as "hay fever" or "allergic rhinitis"). Although scientists have yet to confirm acupuncture's effectiveness for allergy relief, several studies have shown that acupuncture may be of some benefit to people with allergies.
Using Acupuncture for Allergies
For people with seasonal allergies, the immune system produces an exaggerated reaction to generally harmless outdoor substances (such as plant pollen). Acupuncture, which involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the body, aims to regulate immune response to allergens. By stimulating those points, acupuncturists strive to unblock the body's flow of vital energy and restore balance to the immune system and the entire body.
Some proponents claim that acupuncture can also help relieve many symptoms of allergies, including:
- nasal congestion
- runny nose
- sore throat
- dark circles under the eyes
- clogged ears
- decreased sense of smell
- watery eyes
- postnasal drip
- facial pressure or pain
Does Acupuncture Really Work for Allergies?
For a report published in 2009, scientists reviewed 12 clinical trials and found that acupuncture failed to show superiority over placebo in treatment of seasonal allergies. In a review published the previous year, researchers found "insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of acupuncture in patients with allergic rhinitis."
However, in a 2008 clinical trial of 5,237 patients with allergies, in which a subset of patients received up to 15 acupuncture sessions during a three-month period, investigators found that treatment with acupuncture offered consistent benefits. Another study, released in 2009, showed that pairing acupuncture with standard treatment may be both beneficial and cost-effective for people with allergies.
Should You Use Acupuncture for Allergies?
Given the conflicting findings on acupuncture's effectiveness as a treatment for allergies, it's too soon to recommend this therapy as a first line of allergy defense.
Although acupuncture is generally considered safe, it may cause dizziness, local internal bleeding, dermatitis, nerve damage, and/or increased pain (especially when the acupuncturist is not well trained). If you're considering the use of acupuncture for relief of allergies, talk to your doctor about whether the treatment is right for you.
Brinkhaus B, Witt CM, Jena S, Liecker B, Wegscheider K, Willich SN. "Acupuncture in patients with allergic rhinitis: a pragmatic randomized trial." Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 101(5):535-43.
Lee MS, Pittler MH, Shin BC, Kim JI, Ernst E. "Acupuncture for allergic rhinitis: a systematic review." Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009 102(4):269-79.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Acupuncture: An Introduction". NCCAM Publication No. D404. December 2007.
Roberts J, Huissoon A, Dretzke J, Wang D, Hyde C. "A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 22;8:13.
Witt CM, Reinhold T, Jena S, Brinkhaus B, Willich SN. "Cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in women and men with allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled study in usual care." Am J Epidemiol. 2009 1;169(5):562-71.