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Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Allergy Treatment

November 24th, 2013

By Yeseul Kim, PharmD student

Many people in the world are suffering from allergies and they want some relief from the symptoms whether they are mild or serious. Some are using OTC allergy medications, such as Allegra, Benadryl, and Claritin, for treatment. However, these OTC allergy medications can cause some side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, or dry mouth.1 Therefore, people often try another treatment like acupuncture which may have fewer side effects than OTC medications. According to National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), this therapy originally came from Asian countries and has been studied for over a thousand years for a wide range of conditions.2

The article, “Acupuncture may be antidote for allergies”, from CNN Health, deals with treating allergy patients with the therapy of acupuncture.3 Since some patients have already adopted the acupuncture method for relieving pain, one study tried to evaluate the effect of acupuncture on patient’s allergies. The researchers divided allergy patients into three groups.4 The first group received acupuncture treatments with antihistamines as needed, the second group received fake acupuncture treatments with antihistamines as needed, and the third group did not receive any acupuncture, and only took antihistamines for treatment.4

The study results showed some effectiveness of acupuncture for allergy treatment. The first group took less antihistamines and showed improvement in symptoms.4 There is a placebo effect also as shown in second group, in which some patients improved with fake acupuncture.4 Based on improvement seen in this study, I agree with and support the use of acupuncture in addition to antihistamines for allergy treatment. Another study found similar results and helps increase the validity of this study. The 2008 Berlin allergic rhinitis acupuncture study concluded that “the result of this trial suggests that treating patients with allergic rhinitis in routine care with additional acupuncture leads to clinically relevant and persistent benefits.”5

Although the study reported a higher quality of life for allergy patients after acupuncture treatment, there are some limitations to the study. The researchers noted, “We found that acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and antihistamine use after eight weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with antihistamine alone, but the clinical significance of the findings remains uncertain.”6 Also, acupuncture was less effective on severe allergy symptoms. If patients with severe allergies do not get relief from OTC medication or acupuncture, they may want to try prescription products for their allergies.

Another study, Effect of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial, found a significant improvement in nasal and non-nasal symptoms between the two types of acupuncture treatments.7 The study concluded at the end that “no side effects were observed for both groups. The results indicate that acupuncture is an effective and safe alternative treatment for the management of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis.”7

I want to recommend acupuncture therapy with use of antihistamines for allergy patients, even though this is different from the standard of care. The current standard of care is taking antihistamines only for treatment. Several studies have found a positive result in treating allergies and acupuncture is a safe treatment as reported side effects are rare. Acupuncture treatment also contains some placebo effect which I believe is another important mechanism in patient treatment. A positive state of mind largely influences the improvement of symptoms  

Through various research, the efficacy of acupuncture on allergies is proven, but some are still questioning the exact scientific mechanism of how the acupuncture works. Some patients will get better with acupuncture but others will not.  We should think about “What are the factors that can lead to less effectiveness?” and “Should we recommend an acupuncture treatment for a patient before recommending OTC medications to a patient?”

References

 

1. Berardi RR, Kroon LA, McDermott JH et al. Handbook of nonprescription drugs, an interactive approach to self-care. APhA Publications; 2006.

2. Acupuncture: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web Site. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm. Updated 2012. Accessed October 30, 2013.

3. Sifferlin A. Acupuncture may be antidote for allergies. CNN.com Web Site. http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/19/health/acpuncture-allergies/. Updated 2013. Accessed October 29, 2013.

4. Benno Brinkhaus, Miriam Ortiz, Claudia M. Witt, Stephanie Roll, Klaus Linde, Florian Pfab, Bodo Niggemann, Josef Hummelsberger, András Treszl, Johannes Ring, Torsten Zuberbier, Karl Wegscheider, Stefan N. Willich; Acupuncture in Patients With Seasonal Allergic RhinitisA Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013 Feb;158(4):225-234.

5. Louis PF. Banish allergies with acupuncture: Here’s how. Naturalnews.com Web Site. http://www.naturalnews.com/040305_allergies_acupuncture_studies.html. Updated May 13, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

6. Radford B. Acupuncture for Allergies? Jury’s Still Out. Discovery.com Web Site. http://news.discovery.com/human/health/acupuncture-for-allergies-jurys-still-out-130222.htm. Updated 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

7. Xue C, English R, Zhang J, da Costa C, Li C. Effect of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. American Journal Of Chinese Medicine [serial online]. January 2002;30(1):1. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 31, 2013.

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4 Responses to “Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Allergy Treatment”

  1. Zachary Wallace Says:

    I am, by nature, hesitant to recommend non-traditional complementary/alternative treatments simply because they are not well-regulated or well-understood. However, there may be something to acupuncture that works despite medical science being unable to understand it. After all, acupressure (utilizing similar ideology) is well-established as a method of controlling motion sickness. Could acupuncture/acupressure extend into other regions of treatment then (allergies specifically in this instance)? I would say it is worth trying if the patient uses it only as an adjunctive therapy, realizes it isn’t proven to help, and only accepts therapy from places that are licensed and offer a sterile environment. It is very intriguing that results showed statistical significance in favor of acupuncture, so it is worth conducting further research. A good direction for future research could include use of a patient population with allergies to more than birch or grass pollen.

  2. Ashley Peterson Says:

    With my limited knowledge of acupuncture and how it works, I would be interested to learn more about what it is. If it is more about having a positive state of mind like you mentioned, then other alternative therapies that increase patient positivity could be found to be beneficial to allergy treatment and possibly other disease states. I think that I could be up for talking with a patient about this kind of treatment after I learned more about it. I did notice that in these studies, patients were already receiving allergy medication to treat the symptoms and so acupuncture could be used in addition.

  3. Jeniffer George Says:

    This was a very interesting read for me since I have been interested in trying acupuncture, although, I would not be using it for allergy relief.
    As you have mentioned acupuncture could be beneficial to a patient if they go in with a positive state of mind so if a patient were to receive acupuncture with a negative mind set towards the treatment it can hinder the improvement of their symptoms. Since the studies that are present do not have a clear understanding of how acupuncture is seen to improve allergies, I would not suggest acupuncture as a first line treatment option. However, if their antihistamine does not work I would suggest trying acupuncture in conjunction with an antihistamine.

  4. Jordan Long Says:

    I think that acupuncture is a great idea. Anti-histamines should be a first line treatment and still part of the standard of care, but should they be the sole treatment? Acupuncture has very minimal risk for side-effects and those side-effects are not severe. Even though that it is not proven to actually treat allergies, it can be a great supplemental therapy. In regards to the positive negative attitude, it is our role to encourage patients to keep trying to find an effective therapy. Telling them that acupuncture is not proven to help, but that some people have great success with it might be all they need to at least try it. And with it’s minimal risk, what do you have to lose.

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