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.
Anxious 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
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
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.
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!