Treating Allergies With Acupuncture

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

Allergies can make you feel miserable with itchy, watery eyes, a congested or runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Avoiding your allergy triggers, such as pollen, isn't always possible, especially in the springtime when pollen levels are high.

Allergy medication can help control symptoms but may make you feel sleepy, dizzy or sick to your stomach. Acupuncture is a non-drug alternative/complementary treatment that may provide relief from allergy symptoms. Acupuncture can be used alongside conventional medical therapy. It is not a substitution. Acupuncture won't treat an acute allergic asthmatic event.

How acupuncture for allergy works

Acupuncture, or the insertion of tiny needles just under the skin at designated points, has been used for centuries to manage medical conditions. The practice originated in China but is now used around the world. Today, most medical acupuncture combines elements of traditional Chinese acupuncture with a modern understanding of how the human body functions.

Modern medical studies have attempted to untangle how and why inserting needles into the body may alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Researchers believe that acupuncture may trigger the body to release endorphins (so-called “feel good” chemicals) and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in digestion and is associated with feelings of happiness.

Acupuncture also seems to decrease inflammation and inflammation is a key part of the allergic response. There’s also some evidence that acupuncture may increase blood flow and alter the functioning of the nervous system.

Acupuncture for allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) affects approximately 20 to 30% of the global population. People who have allergic rhinitis develop uncomfortable nasal and eye symptoms when they are exposed to allergens, which can range from tree pollen to pet dander, dust mites and mold.

Because allergic rhinitis can be so uncomfortable—and because allergy medications can cause undesirable side effects—many people with allergic rhinitis turn to acupuncture for relief. One medical study found that more than 60% of patients with allergic rhinitis have used acupuncture.

A 2015 medical article reviewed the results of 13 studies that assess the effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis. The authors concluded that allergy sufferers who underwent acupuncture experienced a significant reduction in nasal symptoms, compared to people who did not undergo acupuncture. Those who received acupuncture also used less medication and reported increased quality of life. No one experienced a serious side effect.

Other studies have compared the effectiveness of acupuncture (inserting needles in very specific acupuncture points) to sham acupuncture (inserting tiny needles at random points). The idea was to determine if the placebo effect (the expectation that treatment will relieve symptoms) might explain acupuncture’s supposed success. Each of the studies found that acupuncture to specific acupuncture allergy points was more effective than sham acupuncture. However, one study noted that the difference might not be significant enough to be clinically relevant.

What to expect during acupuncture for allergies

Most acupuncture sessions take place in a clinic setting. During your first visit, the acupuncturist will carefully assess you and explain where the needles will be inserted; you can ask any questions.

A typical acupuncture session lasts about one hour. You won’t likely feel any pain or discomfort as the acupuncturist inserts the needles because they are so fine and are not inserted deeply into the tissue. Once the needles have been inserted, the acupuncturist will leave them in place for about 30 minutes while you rest. She may dim the lights and turn on some soothing music. Some patients doze.

At the proper time, the acupuncturist removes the needles.

Some patients experience allergy relief soon after an acupuncture appointment; others require multiple sessions before they notice improvement. Some allergy professionals recommend beginning acupuncture a few weeks before allergy season starts.

Together, you and your acupuncturist can determine the timing and frequency of treatments for optimal symptom control.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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