The impact of allergies on a patient's quality of life is quite significant. Spring season ushers in sunshine and blooming flowers, but with that comes the wind and the pollen. For many of us, this could be the onset of allergy season!
Allergic rhinitis or what is known as hay fever is a learned response by the immune system which is accompanied with burdensome symptoms such as nasal congestion, uncontrollable sneezing, watery eyes, itchy and runny nose. All this contributes to disrupted sleep at night and impaired daytime activities. Antihistamines, decongestants and saline nose sprays and most over-the-counter medications work well for allergies, but they come with a host of side effects.
AdvertisementAnxious moms hold back on medicines, fearing it would make the children drowsy especially at the time of exams. Instead they opt for the recommended traditional remedies like cayenne pepper, hot ginger and fenugreek for allergy relief.
Whatever medical or natural treatments you try on your own, you may also want to try something that strengthens your immune system by attacking the root of the problem. One of these is an ancient Chinese medical practice known as acupuncture. This is a form of oriental treatment which takes years to master. Acupuncture believes in addressing the root cause of allergies and focuses on balancing the immune system, leading to significant long-term health benefits for managing allergic conditions.
Acupuncture also helps ease various types of pain, such as migraines and backaches, and is also used to treat nausea and vomiting post surgery or chemotherapy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by stimulating certain points on the skin which affects the flow of energy, or "qi" (pronounced "chee"), through the body.
In allergic rhinitis, the basic idea is to stimulate the acupoints thought to affect the immune system where allergic reactions begin. Seasonal allergy sufferers, who are bogged down by unwanted side effects of allergy medications, such as drowsiness, may find relief in acupuncture.
Dr. Benno Brinkhaus, a medical doctor and acupuncturist, associated with Charite-University Medical Center in Berlin, who studied this ancient form of treatment, said that acupuncture gave some relief to people suffering from seasonal allergies, but the improvements didn't last for too long after the treatment was stopped.
Dr. Brinkhaus studied 422 people in Germany with grass and birch pollen allergies. They divided them into three groups: one treated with acupuncture, one with sham acupuncture and one with antihistamines.
The people in the first two groups also were allowed to take antihistamines if needed. In the sham version, acupuncturists used real needles, but inserted them only superficially into areas which are not traditional acupuncture points.
After seven to eight weeks and about 12 acupuncture sessions, it was seen that patients given real acupuncture reported more symptom improvement than those in either of the comparison groups. On an average, their quality-of-life "scores" were 0.5 to 0.7 points better. However, it was seen that within eight weeks of ending their treatment, the benefits of the acupuncture were gone. The findings of this study are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Brinkhaus said he would recommend acupuncture to patients who are not satisfied with their allergy medication either because it's not working as good or because of the side effects.
Dr. Harold Nelson, an allergy specialist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado did a study to check the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating seasonal allergies. His research showed that 71 percent of people benefited after about eight weeks of acupuncture treatment, versus 56 percent of people who were treated with sham acupuncture as an alternative for comparison.
Dr. Nelson said 'Acupuncture works, but there a couple of warnings for people who think of using it. Acupuncture is very persistent, if you are comparing it to spraying a nasal steroid in your nose once a morning. Acupuncture is more time consuming and effective only if it is practiced through a licensed and qualified acupuncturist.'
Some people find nasal steroids much more beneficial than other therapies, because they feel that it helps them in preventing symptoms. However, the results and views can vary from person to person and their body types. For people dependant on medicines for years, acupuncture might be a great add-on option.
Given acupuncture's potential role in treating allergies, it should be noted that more rigorous research comparing acupuncture with existing treatments for conditions such as allergies, would be conducted in coming years. Till then, the best way to fight allergies is to learn ways to avoid them!