Acupuncture has been found to improve symptoms and quality of life in patients with allergic rhinitis, and there is evidence that acupuncture may change some allergy biomarkers. Clinical evidence suggests that acupuncture improves symptoms in persistent allergic rhinitis, but the mechanism is poorly understood. Allergies involve a complex crosstalk among cytokines, neurtrophins and proinflammatory neuropeptides. It is hypothesized that acupuncture may down regulate allergy cytokines and reduce nasal mucosal inflammation and hypersensitivity.
A study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology June 2016 tested the hypothesis of acupuncture and allergies. A sham controlled trial of acupuncture was done for patients with allergic rhinitis and the mucosal immune responses were measured. Acupuncture treatment was administered twice weekly for 8 weeks. The patients were allergic to grass and/or dust mites. A total of 151 volunteers were randomized into the real or sham acupuncture groups and a no acupuncture group.
Results showed that acupuncture modulated the mucosal immune response in the upper airway in adults with persistent allergic rhinitis. It is associated with the down regulation of allergen specific IgE to dust mite. Improvements in nasal itch, eye itch and sneezing was seen too. There were other cytokines that were measured that showed no significant difference though.
The authors of the study concluded that acupuncture treatment for persistent allergic rhinitis appeared to have a significant effect in decreasing the total IgE and allergen specific IgE for house dust mite. Symptoms and quality of life improved significantly.
This is one of the first studies looking at acupuncture and allergies. To see if there is a real long term benefit, more studies will need to be done. But for patients who do not have any benefit for medications or allergy immunotherapy, acupuncture may help in a certain subset of patients.
It remains to be seen if an allergy doctor can recommend acupuncture in conjunction with other traditional allergy therapy in patients with allergic rhinitis. But so far this study does look promising. If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, speak to your allergist about whether or not acupuncture is right for you.