Back in 2005, I started weekly acupuncture treatments. Primarily, I went for stomach distress. However, during that first summer of treatment, I felt less anxious, better able to tolerate the brutal New York City summers and I felt less sensitive to environmental seasonal allergies, which I have every season.
How was this possible? Was it a result of acupuncture? I asked my practitioner about these unexpected results. She said, "Yes. Very often even though we work on other issues, decreased anxiety, decreased sensitivity to heat and decreased seasonal allergies are happy side effects of acupuncture." Apparently, most acupuncturists, according to her, know about this. But the public? Not so much.
At the time, though, she didn't have any western studies to back that up. But lo and behold, a new study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (the Journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) found that the effects of acupuncture on allergies are promising.
The primary objective of the study was to look into the effectiveness of acupuncture in addition to routine care in patients with environmental allergies compared with routine care alone.
There were many aspects of how this study was conducted that could allow for bias toward a positive outcome: neither the patients nor the physicians were blinded; physicians already had positive attitudes toward acupuncture treatment; insurance companies reimbursed both patients and doctors for treatment; the treatment/acupuncture options were highly variable; the broad inclusion criteria left room for cases with variable diagnosis to be lumped in with sufferers of allergic rhinitis; there was no way to distinguish whether the allergies being treated were seasonal or perennial; no systematic documentation of other treatments being used simultaneously in patients; and the sample of patients in the study had a "...highly positive attitude toward acupuncture treatment."
Are you thinking "placebo effect?" That's when believing that the treatment will work or is working, even when the treatment is just sugar water, causes your condition to improve. The study stated: "[We] cannot answer the question of whether the effects observed may be at least in part due to the placebo effect."
That being said, the study concluded that acupuncture given weekly over a period of three and six months in addition to routine care can lead to "...clinically relevant and persistent benefits. In addition, it seems that physician characteristics play a minor role in the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment, although this idea needs further investigation."
What does this mean for you? To me it means if you are already in treatment for allergies but are thinking about adding alternative, non-medicinal care to your routine, you may want to consider alternative care modalities like acupuncture, especially if your insurance carrier covers it. Before adding or changing your allergy care, talk with your allergist about your allergy management program.