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Could acupuncture relieve allergies?

19th February 2013

People who suffer with runny noses and watering eyes as the annual allergy season comes around may find some relief from acupuncture, a new study from Germany has shown.

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While the effects were small, some 70% people found some relief from the symptoms of seasonal allergies after eight weeks of acupuncture.

By comparison, 56% of a control group receiving fake acupuncture also reported feeling better.

According to Harold Nelson, who treats allergies at the National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, the treatment appears to work, but with some caveats.

Patients would need to spend time finding a licenced, appropriately qualified acupuncturist, and submit to weeks of fairly invasive treatment, compared with spraying steroids in their noses every morning.

Writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers said they undertook the study because previous studies have conflicted on whether acupuncture relieves runny noses and other seasonal allergy symptoms.

Researchers led by Benno Brinkhaus from Charite-University Medical Center in Berlin randomly assigned 422 people with seasonal allergies to receive real or sham acupuncture. A third group took only antihistamines as needed.

The acupuncture group reported symptoms that ameliorated somewhat after eight weeks of treatment and 12 acupuncture sessions.

But that advantage had tailed off by eight weeks after treatment finished, they said.

However, a typical acupuncture session can be costly, and is often not available on national health services or corporate health coverage.

The researchers speculated that the benefit could come from acupuncture's action on the immune system.

Nelson said he would have used nasal steroids as the alternative control treatment, as they were more effective at preventing symptoms.

According to Brinkhaus, plenty of patients have suffered for years from allergies, and were reluctant to take medications every day, partly because they experienced side-effects.

Brinkhaus, who is himself a Western-trained doctor and an acupuncturist, said acupuncture could be a good "add-on" option for those people, rather than an alternative to conventional treatments.

It could result in a reduction in the amount of allergy medication people need to take, he said.

According to Li-Xing Man, who treats sinus and nasal diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, it is hard to know just how helpful acupuncture could be.

But there would be no harm in trying it if a person had access to a good practitioner and could afford the treatments, he added.


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