Seasonal allergies affect many people every day and may impact their lives profoundly, from itchy eyes to sneezing, stuffy nose, to swelling of the face and throat in extreme cases. Many people that I know, relatives and friends, are under medical treatment for seasonal allergies and have been taking daily allergy medications for years, and some have been even receiving monthly allergy injections. For some of these people, medication and injections have been helping but generally the help seems temporary. Will these patients have to take medication and get injections for rest of their life, or is there a better way to treat this issue? Is there a way to decrease the use of seasonal allergy medications?
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, nasal allergies affect 50 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of illness in the US. Allergies affect 30% of adults and 40% of children and the annual cost is about $18 billion. Sinus swelling, seasonal and returning allergies, hay fever and nasal allergies are common symptoms. Trees, grass and weed pollen, dust spores, and mold are the most common triggers.
Nasal allergies occur when allergens (allergy-causing particles) such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, tree pollen, and grass and weeds pollen travel through the air and enter our bodies through the nose and trigger a response from our immune system. When this happens, inflammatory substances such as histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines, tryptase, chemokines, and leukotrienes are released causing allergic symptoms such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and itchy nose, itchy eyes and watery eyes.
In an acupuncture study done in Germany, data were analyzed from 414 seasonal allergic rhinitis patients who were randomized into three study groups: rescue medication (RM), acupuncture and RM, sham acupuncture and RM. Rescue medication was offered as an option on an as needed basis to all groups. For medication they were allowed 20 mg of the second-generation oral antihistamine Cetirizine. In the study, the acupuncture group received 12 sessions of semi-standardized acupuncture, and the sham acupuncture group received 12 sessions of sham acupuncture sessions where acupuncture points locations were moved 1 cm to 1.5 cm from the true acupuncture points.
All acupuncture, true and sham, was done by trained physicians (MDs) who had additional extensive training in acupuncture. The acupuncture group received four obligatory basic acupuncture points: bilateral LI 4, LI 11, LI 20, and Yintang; and at least three out of eight supporting basic points: Bitong, GB 20, LV 3, LU 7, ST 36, SP 6, TH 17, or UB 13; and at least three additional points. When comparing all three groups, the acupuncture group had a lot fewer days of antihistamine use and 38% of the acupuncture group didn’t need any medication at all.
In conclusion, acupuncture is an effective therapy for the treatment of seasonal allergies and is likely to decrease the use of allergy medications. In fact a previous study we wrote about found “acupuncture superior to claritin“.
Even where medications are still required, most often appropriately prescribed Chinese herbal medicine can take the place of it. Besides similar symptomatic relief, using herbal medicine besides western medicine will generally lead to an overall reduction in the need for any treatment, whereas the western medicines tend towards management of symptoms. This is because both acupuncture and herbal medicine are more focused on calming the hyperarousal of the immune system permanently, rather than focusing on symptoms alone. A previous article “self-help for allergies” discusses herbal possibilities as well as some helpful acupressure points and our allergy treatment section has more theoretical details as well as acupuncture protocols for allergies.
Generally, properly prescribed Chinese herbal medicines have no side effects where western medications often have some and at times even have detrimental side effects. And while many of the Chinese herbal formulas have been used for many hundreds of years, if not longer, many western medications have not been used for even a single generation. This is important as long term effects are not often found out until they are widespread in a population.
One such recent discovery or link, was discussed in an article published by Harvard Medical School. Within, the author reports that research has found a a strong link between long-term use of anticholinergic medications, such as, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and the development of dementia. Anticholinergic drugs block acetylcholine, the substance that transmits messages to the nervous system and brain, and the referenced study noted a 54% increased risk for dementia in patients that used these drugs for three years or more when compared to patients that used the same dose for three months or less. While there are many benefits of modern western medicine, working -with- the body to enhance the bodies own responses is arguably not one of them. For seasonal allergies acupuncture and properly prescribed herbal medicines should strongly considered.