'Tis the season....for allergies, that is. It is estimated that roughly one in six Canadians suffers from seasonal allergies which can greatly impact quality of life and worker productivity. As a naturopath there are many tools I can use to help an individual prevent and treat allergies and acupuncture is one of them. Especially for seasonal runny noses we call allergic rhinitis.
This Monday May 6th, the clinic where I work will be having an Open House to celebrate naturopathic medicine week and the grand re-opening of the clinic (more info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/497737796951965/). There, I will be talking about acupuncture as an effective treatment for allergies so I thought it would be a good idea to be up-to-speed on the latest research on the subject. I thought I would I would take the time to share with you what I found. But first, in case you are not familiar with acupuncture....
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques, such as penetrating the skin with needles that are then manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation. It is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and is among the oldest healing practices in the world.  Despite popular belief, acupuncture does not hurt, though insertion of the needles can feel like a pinch. We love when patients feel sensations such as heaviness, itching, aching or groundedness. Feeling nothing at all is fine too. Naturopathic Doctors receive 4 years of training in asian medicine and acupuncture.
How Many Treatments are Required?
The number of treatments required to see significant improvement varies greatly depending on the individual and is determined by your naturopathic doctor. In general, acupuncture is prescribed once weekly for a period of 6 to 12 weeks.
A Review of the Research
Now for the sweet stuff....Here is what I found in the research literature (as a side note, naturopaths take alot of flack for not being evidence-based. Just so everyone understands, I search through pubmed, cochrane review, etc- the same databases that all other science and medical professionals use. Also, I included my references in case you want to check out the papers yourself. :))
Acupuncture may help combat against allergic rhinitis (runny nose) and improve quality of life
Acupuncture is a relatively cost-effective treatment
Acupuncture is safe
Acupuncture may reduce the need for anti-histamine use.
A randomized, controlled clinical trial by Xue, et.al. (2002) compared 4 weeks of acupuncture using Chinese Medicine Theory versus sham acupuncture. They showed that there was a significant improvement in nasal and non-nasal symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. There were no side effects reported in either group suggesting that acupuncture is a safe alternative treatment. 
Another study by Witt, et.al (2008) showed that 10 treatments of acupuncture improved quality of life measures and was a relatively cost-effective treatment for allergic rhinitis when it was added to a routine treatment approach (ie. meds). 
After 8 weeks of acupuncture, Brinkhaus et.al. (2013) found that there was a statistically significant improvement in quality of life scores and anti-histamine use compared to those receiving sham acupuncture. This was a multi-center, randomized, controlled trial using individuals with proven allergy (IgE-mediated) to birch and grass pollen. 
See you at our Open House!
1. "What is CAM?". N.I.H. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
2. Xue C.C. et al. Effect of acupuncture in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis: randomized controlled clinical trial. Amer J Chin Med. 2002; 30(1): 1-11.
3. Witt C.M. et al. Cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in women and men with allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled study in usual care. Amer J Epi. 2008; 169(5): 562-571
4. Brinkhaus B, et.al. Acupuncture in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized trial. 2013 Feb 19;158(4):225-34.