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Acupuncture for Allergies

Can Acupuncture Help in the Treatment of Allergies?

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Updated June 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine that can be used for many chronic diseases, especially chronic pain. The process involves inserting needles into the skin at exact points on the body, which is supposed to restore the balance of "vital flows."

Why Would Acupuncture Work for Allergies?

Acupuncture has also been claimed to influence the various activities of cells in the body, particularly via the transport, breakdown and clearance of “bioactive mediators.” These actions, along with the claimed effect of inhibiting an over-active immune system, are thought to result in anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

These anti-inflammatory effects are thought to decrease inflammatory diseases such as allergic rhinitis.

Does Acupuncture Work for Allergies?

The answer to this question is not completely clear. Most studies on acupuncture used to treat allergies are poorly designed, and are not up to typical scientific standards. Many of these studies fail to include a "control" (a placebo, or "fake" treatment) group, as well as lack of "blinding" (meaning the researchers don't know who is getting the real treatment and who is getting a placebo treatment, so they cannot be biased) as part of the study design.

When there is a placebo treatment group in acupuncture studies, this placebo treatment is called “sham acupuncture,” which involves puncturing the skin away from active sites of acupuncture. Often, there is no difference in benefit between those subjects receiving real acupuncture and sham acupuncture for allergies.

There are a few studies, however, that show benefit of acupuncture for perennial allergies when compared to sham acupuncture. These studies are small, however, and contradicted by many other studies that show no difference between real and sham acupuncture. In addition, there are no studies showing a difference between real and sham acupuncture for seasonal allergies.

Why Would Acupuncture Only Work For Perennial Allergies And Not Seasonal Allergies?

In my opinion, it’s because acupuncture really doesn’t work for allergies. The most miserable people I see with allergies are those with seasonal allergies, not those with perennial allergies. This is because most people notice a change in their symptoms that occurs with seasonal allergies more than they notice the constant symptoms associated with perennial allergies. Therefore, only therapies that are really effective show benefit for seasonal allergies.

Therefore, until well-designed, placebo-controlled studies show that acupuncture is an effective therapy for allergies, I won’t be recommending it to my patients - especially when there are numerous, proven effective therapies for the treatment of allergies.

Learn more about alternative therapies for allergies.

Source:

Myeong SL, et al. Acupuncture for Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009;102:269-79.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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