Allergic rhinitis is a widespread condition, also known commonly as hay fever, that significantly reduces feelings of healthiness and even the overall quality of life. Tons of treatments have been introduced to help control the symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis, including antihistamines, but nothing seems to work on a permanent basis.
Of course, that’s Western medicine. Comparatively, Eastern traditional medicine dates back as far as 5,000 years, including the use of acupuncture to help relieve various pains and ailments. In recent years, some practitioners have grown fond of treating allergic rhinitis with acupuncture, while others are uncertain this is a practical solution.
Is this a safe and effective solution for your runny nose? Let’s take a good look at the facts and determine why acupuncture and allergic rhinitis relief could go hand in hand.
How Acupuncture Works
In traditional Chinese medicine (as well as in other cultures that have practiced needle therapy for several millennia), the belief is that all disease, illness, and health conditions stem from something disrupting the flow of energy in the body. This energy is referred to as “qi”.
This sort of belief and the respective therapy have been commonly practiced in a number of Asian cultures, with ancient records of the practice. China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam in particular show long histories of using effectively and successfully needle therapies, which were named by a European physician who discovered the merits of the practice “acupuncture”.
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles into specific pressure points in the body that are release this qi, which then flows through channels called meridians. However, Western medical practices, acupuncture is used with a more scientific idea, with a major theory that the needles stimulate particular nerves in the acupressure location.
How would that make a difference? The sequence of events could work as follows:
- The needle causes neural stimulation.
- The nerve that has been “awakened” sends a signal to the brain to release a neural hormone, or hormones that are responsive to stimulation of the nerves, typically endorphins.
- Endorphins create a euphoric, happy feeling that reduces tension and pain in the body.
One other theory is that acupuncture might reduce inflammation by controlling and reducing the amount of pro-inflammatory proteins, which would, in turn, reduce pain. But how does any of this relate to allergic rhinitis?
What is allergic rhinitis?
Rather than being a particular disease or condition, allergic rhinitis is a diagnosis given to a group of related symptoms caused by allergies, which is commonly referred to as hay fever. Those symptoms that trigger the diagnosis include:
- Itchy nose, eyes, mouth, throat, or skin
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat and/or coughing
- Dark circles or puffiness under and around the eyes
- Watery eyes
- Clogged ears and/or reduced sense of smell
- Chronic headaches
- Fatigue or easy irritability
While these symptoms individually may or may not be related to allergic rhinitis, a combination of several point to that diagnosis. These responses are caused when an allergen stimulates the production of histamine in the body, which causes inflammation, or swelling, in the respiratory system, as well as the production of excess mucus. That’s the body’s way of trying to protect itself and remove the foreign allergen that irritates your nose and other areas of the body.
Antihistamines versus acupuncture
About 1 in 14 people have allergic rhinitis, at least mildly. In traditional Western medicine, the immediate response for treating allergic rhinitis is the prescription (or even over the counter purchase) of antihistamines, which suppress the body’s production of histamine. Without histamine, the inflammation goes down, and there is less mucus, reducing overall hay fever symptoms.
But in some cases, even this isn’t enough to treat an allergic reaction. Immunotherapy in the form of weekly allergy shots is required to control allergies. And still, some people suffer terribly with their allergies.
Acupuncture has shown promise in reducing symptoms that are related to hay fever, especially in terms of swelling and inflammation. In a very thorough study, the self administration of antihistamine by patients receiving acupuncture was far reduced in comparison to those who were not receiving acupuncture, as well as by those who thought they were getting needle treatment but were not getting the proper depth of skin penetration (referred to as sham acupuncture, much like a placebo).
In studies where patient symptoms were compared between those using antihistamines and those being treated with acupuncture, the results showed that symptoms were more tightly controlled in the test group receiving acupuncture. Symptoms most commonly relieved were nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose.
Of course, it makes sense to speak to a physician about treatment for allergies and allergic rhinitis prior to attempting acupuncture. There is still little information to confirm that it is, in fact, an ideal treatment for hay fever. However, it shows great promise, and the studies that have been conducted fully support the theory that it can at least supplement medical practices and over the counter antihistamines in reducing symptoms.
When it comes to acupuncture and allergic rhinitis, there’s no concern of harmful side effects and absolutely no fear that the treatment can cause any harm. And while there are plenty of skeptics, the practice has been popular in Eastern medicine since long before recorded history to resolve many issues, especially anything related to inflammation.
Whether by stimulating nerves, releasing energy flow, causing the production of endorphins, or reducing the amount of inflammation causing protein, acupuncture seems to assist patients with allergic rhinitis. Studies show they use fewer antihistamines and have a vastly improved quality of life. And the use of other medications doesn’t increase in spring, or “allergy season”.
A discussion with a physician about the possibility of adding acupuncture to a treatment regimen for hay fever could be important to gaining better health and improving your overall sense of well being. Considering the success of Traditional Chinese Medicine over the centuries, acupuncture could be the key to resolving a lifelong battle with these symptoms.