February 20, 2013
Seasonal Allergies Could Be Lessened By Acupuncture
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
When seasonal allergies hit, most people turn to antihistamines. When these remedies don't work, however, some turn to alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
Acupuncture consists of tiny needles inserted just under the skin at specific points along the body to reduce certain symptoms. The needles are then manipulated, either by hand or by electrical stimulation. Acupuncture has been practiced in Asian countries for thousands of years, and is used to relieve many different ailments. These can include headaches, menstrual cramps, and chronic pain.
CBS News reports that according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an estimated 3.1 million adults and 150,000 children have acupuncture treatments each year in the U.S.
Time Health & Family reports that 422 participants - between the ages of 16 and 45 - who tested positive for pollen allergies and had allergic nasal symptoms were examined in the study. The participants self-reported their symptoms as well as any medications and doses they used to treat those symptoms. The subjects were divided into three groups. The first group received 12 acupuncture treatments and took antihistamines as needed. The second group received 12 "fake" acupuncture treatments — needles placed randomly in non-meaningful points in the body - and took antihistamines as needed. The final group only took antihistamines. The medication used in the study was cetirizine (Zyrtec), and participants were allowed to use an oral corticosteroid if the rescue drug was inadequate.
At 8 weeks, the research team surveyed the patients, asking about their symptoms and how much medication they used. Every 10mg per day of medication equaled one point, and the score was calculated as the weekly sum of the daily use. The real acupuncture group showed a greater improvement, with fewer allergy symptoms and less use of medication when compared to the other two groups. The "sham" acupuncture group reported some relief of their symptoms as well, suggesting a strong placebo affect is responsible.
Some of the findings at this stage included:
- Acupuncture patients had an average quality of life score that was 0.5 points better than those in the sham group and 0.7 points better than those in the medication-only group (97.5% CI 0.2 to 0.8 and 0.4 to 1.0, respectively).
- They also had rescue medication scores that were 1.1 points better than those in the sham group and 1.5 points better than those in the rescue medication group (97.5% CI 0.4 to 1.9 and 0.8 to 2.2, respectively)
At 16 weeks, the researchers again followed up with the participants, finding that the differences between the groups was smaller, leading the researchers to speculate that participants' expectations influenced their reports of improved symptoms.
The research team asserts that if acupuncture is providing any relief, then its potential role in treating allergies should be investigated further. "The effectiveness of acupuncture for [seasonal allergies] compared with other anti-allergic interventions and the possible underlying mechanisms of any effect, including context effects, need to be addressed in further research,” they wrote in the study.
Medpage Today reports that 8 weeks after cessation of treatment, however, the effects were no longer noticeable. The research team noted that the "clinical significance of the findings is uncertain."
However, Jongbae Park, DKM, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill interprets the difference in the use of rescue medication to be clinically important.
"By receiving acupuncture, patients could reduce that amount of antihistamine, plus increase the quality of life," Park said.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Park and Remy Coeytaux, MD, PhD, of Duke University, argued that the study lends "compelling support to the effectiveness of real-world acupuncture" as a treatment for rhinitis.
Park says what is needed now are more studies to "enhance the findings."