People with allergies seek relief in any manner they can find it. From traditional treatment with antihistamines and immunotherapy to neti pots and acupuncture. Eastern and Western medicine have both sought to bring an end to the itchy, watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, and wheezing that come with allergies.
The question is, does acupuncture really help with allergies? It may, but not the way you might expect.
The Cause of Allergies
Allergy is the result of a problem with the immune system. The immune system is your body’s defense against elements from the outside that are potentially harmful.
When you are exposed to a bacteria or virus, your immune system mounts a defense against the invaders. In order to actuate this defense, the immune system must identify what is harmful.
With allergies, the immune system mistakes harmless bits of proteins as harmful invaders. In the case of seasonal allergies or seasonal rhinitis, the immune system misidentifies harmless proteins found in the pollens of trees and grasses.
Not only does the immune system misidentify the protein as harmful, but it remembers the mistaken identity by memorializing it by creating a specific antigen (IgE) for that protein. On every subsequent exposure to the protein, the IgE stimulates the immune system to create histamine and other chemicals in response.
This is why the symptoms of allergies are often confused with the symptoms of a cold. The immune system is fighting an enemy that isn’t there.
Traditional treatment of allergies revolves around reducing or eliminating exposure to the allergen and treating the symptoms with antihistamines, decongestants and steroids.
Exposing the immune system to small quantities of the protein can help reduce sensitivity and is the basis of immunotherapy or “allergy shots”.
How Acupuncture Works
Acupuncture is based on maintaining a healthy flow of vital energy or qi through the meridians of the body. These meridians are like channels through with the qi flows. There are 71 meridians that serve all organs, muscles, nerves and surfaces of the body. In a healthy body, qi flows freely through the meridians and the body is in balance.
With allergies, the flow of qi is blocked by an obstruction in the meridians or flows in the wrong direction. This causes too much qi in some areas and not enough qi in other areas. This causes the body to be out of balance.
Acupuncture restores the flow of qi through the body by removing the obstructions in the meridians. Acupuncture points are spots on the meridians where the qi is accessible.
Acupuncture needles are inserted in acupuncture spots to remove blockages, eliminate excesses, remove deficiencies and correct imbalances that can occur in each of the meridians. Once this happens, the qi flows freely through the body, balance is restored and the allergy symptoms are eliminated.
Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Allergies
Acupuncture has been used as a complementary therapy to treat various health conditions, including allergies. According to some studies, acupuncture may be effective in reducing symptoms of allergies, such as sneezing, itching, and nasal congestion.
However, there are very few controlled clinical studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture on allergies.
For example, a systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture may have a positive effect on reducing symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
In another study, participants who received acupuncture treatment reported a significant improvement in symptoms of hay fever compared to those who received a placebo.
The largest study of acupuncture on allergies was performed in Germany. The participants were divided into three groups. One group received acupuncture and medication to take as needed, the second group received sham acupuncture (needles randomly inserted, not at acupuncture points) and medication to take as needed and the third group only received medication.
After 2 months, an initial assessment of results found that 71% of the participants that received acupuncture reported a decrease in symptoms and the lowest use of medication. That’s a strong indicator that acupuncture works. But, 56% of the participants in the sham acupuncture group reported decreased symptoms too.
That’s a strong indicator that it isn’t the acupuncture at work, but the placebo effect. After 6 months of treatment, the groups were about the same. That’s a strong indicator that it was the expectations of acupuncture’s effects that influenced the perception of symptom improvement. It wasn’t the acupuncture at all.
In 2008, a systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for allergies found that most studies were not randomized or double-blind, the highest standard for clinical trials.
Of the randomized trials, few showed that acupuncture was effective. Where sham acupuncture was used as a control, the results were similar between the study and the control group.
Based on the results of science-based controlled clinical studies, no acupuncture will not help with allergies unless you believe it will help. The placebo effect is very strong with acupuncture, so if you believe it will work, it might really work for you. It won’t be the acupuncture, it will be your mind.
Effective Treatment of Seasonal Allergies
If you want relief from seasonal allergies but want to avoid taking medication, try nasal irrigation. Studies have shown nasal irrigation is an effective treatment for the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
In addition, avoid going outside on days when pollen counts are high. If you exercise outdoors, wear a pollen mask for protection.
You can try acupuncture for allergies, however, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of acupuncture for allergies and to determine the optimal frequency and duration of treatment.
Additionally, acupuncture should not be used as a substitute for conventional allergy treatments, such as medications, but rather as a complementary therapy.
It is important to consult with a qualified practitioner to determine if acupuncture is right for you and to ensure that you receive safe and effective treatment.
Wishing you the best of health
The Allergy Store
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737143/
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(02)70888-6/fulltext
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-what-you-need-to-know