In some patients acupuncture is the treatment of choice for relief of pain and the most recent study suggests that it can potentially relieve itchy eyes and sneezing as well.
During the allergy season, most patients are plagued with the sniffles and they almost automatically reach for the medicine cabinet and relieve symptoms with take over-the-counter antihistamines. Oftentimes, these drugs don’t work and so they are left with no other choice but to seek alternative treatments such as acupuncture for relief. Acupuncture is an Eastern mode of treatment that uses hair thin needles which are stuck beneath the skin’s surface at certain so-called acupoints in the body to eliminate symptoms.
A widely circulated medical journal published a study that monitored 422 patients suffering from runny nose and other allergic nasal symptoms and positively tested for pollen allergies. The subjects reported what symptoms they were experiencing and what drugs and dosages they used to treat their symptoms. They were then grouped into three; the control group solely took antihistamines for symptoms, the second group was administered with a dozen sham acupuncture treatments (in which the needles were randomly placed at non-traditional acupoints), while the last group also was given 12 acupuncture treatments in Cleveland besides taking antihistamine drugs, as needed.
Two months later, the conductors of the study questioned the patients regarding their symptoms and the amount of drugs they used. Those who were given genuine acupuncture treatments and took antihistamines were able to reduce their use of antihistamines and experienced a much better outcome in their symptoms compared to the two other groups. Interestingly, the people that received sham acupuncture also experienced some amelioration of their symptoms suggesting that the improvement of symptoms was at least partly the result of the placebo effect.
That hypothesis was reinforced four months after, during follow-up, when the difference between the groups was less marked. It was speculated that the expectations of the patients of how much acupuncture might be able to treat them could have played a role in the improvement of their symptoms.
So, the authors believe that if acupuncture treatments work, it should play a role in the treatment of allergies and should be studied further. They wrote “Acupuncture’s efficacy on [seasonal allergies] as opposed to the other anti-allergic treatments as well as the potential underlying effects, including context effects, should be further explored in future studies.”
This opinion is held by Dr. Jongbae J. Park affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke Clinical Research Institute’s Dr. Remy Coeytaux. They noted that the benefits of acupuncture have been more and more understood for over 15 years and that ample meaningful clinical trials have been done to support it as a valid treatment for seasonal allergies. They recommend that more thorough studies, that would include a comparison of acupuncture to other treatments for issues such as allergies, be done in the near future.
They asked how acupuncture compares with other medical interventions?, which of the various acupuncture approaches or traditions works best for a specific clinical indication? What process measures or results in clinical trials of acupuncture should we be evaluating? From the standpoint of payers, patients, or policymakers is the gravity of effect, connected with acupuncture for a given clinical indication “worth it”?
The author of the study Dr. Benno Brinkhaus of the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics at Charité University Medical Center in Berlin wrote in an email describing the study based on his experience as an acupuncturist, medical doctor, and as a researcher, he would suggest considering acupuncture if his patients are not satisfied with the standard anti-allergic treatment or drug or if they experience sides effects from the standard medication due to the fact that acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment.