(dailyRx News) When allergies are bad, some people may feel like there's no escape from an itchy, runny nose. But an ancient Chinese medical practice might be another way to relieve those stuffy nostrils.
According to new research, acupuncture improved the symptoms and quality of life in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis over time. Rhinitis from allergies is also called hay fever and it affects the nose in a number of ways.
These findings suggest that allergy sufferers could find symptom relief through this ancient practice as an alternative to traditional treatments for rhinitis.
With $1.2 billion spent in the United States annually on medications and preventative measures to avoid rhinitis, researchers said that many patients seek other therapies - such as acupuncture - for their itchy and runny noses.
The study, led by Benno Brinkhaus, MD, from Charité University Medical Center and German Red Cross Hospital Westend in Berlin, Germany, included 422 patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) who were sensitive to birch and grass pollen.
Patients were divided into groups that were treated 12 times over an eight week period.
One group received acupuncture with the allergy medication cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec). The medication is an antihistamine for cold and allergy symptoms.
A second group received sham acupuncture with allergy medicine as well. In sham acupuncture, needles are placed on parts of the body that aren't traditionally used for treatment, as compared with the placement of needles in real acupuncture.
The acupuncture group received about 16 needles on average during treatment, while the sham group received 10. The needles were left in place about half an hour for both groups.
The third group received the cetirizine medication by itself. All participants were surveyed on their quality of life throughout the course of the study.
Participants also reported how well their treatment helped them to breathe better. Researchers followed up with participants after 16 weeks and more than a year after completing treatment.
Researchers found that acupuncture was associated with improved rhinitis symptoms and quality of life compared to sham acupuncture or the allergy medicine alone.
After the first four months, there were no differences between the three groups. But during the second year of follow-up, researchers found that real acupuncture caused small improvements in rhinitis symptoms compared to the sham procedure.
Patients who had real acupuncture scored 0.5 points higher in quality of life and 1.1 points higher in improved rhinitis symptoms compared to the sham acupuncture group, as scored on a 6-point scale through the Rhinitis Quality of Life Questionnaire.
"In summary, we found that acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-speciﬁc quality of life and antihistamine use after eight weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with [the medicine] alone, but the clinical significance of the ﬁndings remains uncertain," researchers wrote in their report.
"The effectiveness of acupuncture for SAR compared with other anti-allergic interventions and the possible underlying mechanisms of any effect, including context effects, need to be addressed in further research."
The researchers noted that they did not account for the differing levels of pollen from one test sight to another. The scores regarding quality of life and medication were low to begin with at the start of the study, which might have skewed results.
Further, patients' beliefs and expectations regarding acupuncture might also affect the results.
The study, supported by the German Research Foundation, was published February 19 in Annals of Internal Medicine.