Acupuncture May Help Ease Hay Fever
In the sham version, acupuncturists used real needles, but inserted them only superficially and into areas of the skin that are not traditional acupuncture points. Patients in all three groups were allowed to take antihistamine medication when their symptoms flared up.
After eight weeks, the study found, patients given real acupuncture reported more symptom improvement than those in either of the comparison groups. On average, their quality-of-life "scores" were 0.5 to 0.7 points better -- which, in real life, should translate to a noticeable difference in hay fever symptoms, according to Nelson.
Brinkhaus, who is a medical doctor and acupuncturist, said he would recommend acupuncture to patients who are not satisfied with allergy medication -- either because it's not working or because of the side effects.
Dr. Remy Coeytaux, who co-wrote an editorial published with the study, agreed that acupuncture is worth a shot.
"Absolutely, give it a try if you are interested," said Coeytaux, an associate professor of community and family medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, who studies acupuncture.
According to Coeytaux, one of the strengths of this study is that it compared acupuncture against both antihistamines alone and sham acupuncture. The fake procedure was used to help control for the "placebo effect" -- where people feel better after receiving a treatment just because they believe it will work.
But Coeytaux said it's also time for studies to move beyond testing real acupuncture against sham versions. One reason is that those fake procedures may actually have physiological effects of their own -- making them poor placebos.
Instead, Coeytaux said, it may be time for more studies that compare acupuncture head-to-head with other therapies, to see how it stacks up.
For now, hay fever sufferers who want to try acupuncture may face some obstacles. Depending on where you live, there may not be many licensed acupuncturists nearby; in the United States, most states require practitioners to be licensed.
Then there is the cost. Acupuncture prices vary, but they typically run around $100 for a session, and health plans often do not cover it.
Nelson added that people who want a "natural" remedy for their hay fever woes might also consider allergy shots. That means getting a series of injections that expose you to tiny amounts of the substance causing your allergies, to train your immune system to tolerate it.
Learn more about hay fever from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.