Hay fever sufferers might find some extra relief by adding acupuncture to their treatment plan, the results of a new clinical trial suggest.
In a study of more than 5 000 adults with nasal allergies, German researchers found that those who had acupuncture added to their therapy showed greater improvements in their symptoms over three months.
Overall, acupuncture patients reported bigger gains in their quality of life - reporting that symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny nose and poor sleep were taking less of a toll on their daily lives.
Dr Benno Brinkhaus, of the Charite University Medical Center in Berlin, led the study, which is published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
In many countries, acupuncture has become a popular alternative therapy for allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever. But the few studies that have been conducted on the treatment have produced conflicting results, according to Brinkhaus and his colleagues.
How the study was done
To investigate, the researchers followed 5 237 adults suffering from seasonal or year-long allergic rhinitis. Of these patients, 487 were randomly assigned to undergo up to 15 acupuncture sessions, delivered by a physician over three months; another 494 were randomly assigned to a "control" group in which patients stayed with their standard treatment alone.
The rest of the study group – 4 256 patients in all - did not want to be randomly assigned and instead chose to have acupuncture. All patients were surveyed about their quality of life at the study's start, at the end of the three-month treatment period, and again three months later.
After treatment was completed, Brinkhaus and his colleagues found that acupuncture patients reported greater gains in quality of life compared with the control group. The difference was still present, although waning, three months later.
Acupuncture has been used for more than 2 000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. According to traditional medicine, specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways that conduct energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.
There is some research evidence that acupuncture might influence immune system activity, which in theory could help explain its benefits for hay fever sufferers. Whatever the mechanism, Brinkhaus and his colleagues say that this study and past research suggest that hay fever sufferers who are interested in acupuncture should give it a try.
"Acupuncture can be considered an effective and safe treatment option for patients with allergic rhinitis," they conclude. – (Reuters Health, December 2008)