Acupuncture doesn’t work like you think. Meaning, it doesn’t instantly de-sensitize a person to allergens. Rather, it modifies the immune response over time. It took me five years of consistent treatment with acupuncture and herbs to get rid of my allergies, but I only had to treat them for a few months each year and I was able to stop taking three different medications.
Allergies from a TCM Perspective
Chinese medicine looks at allergies as being similar to the common cold; the only difference being the cause. A cold is typically caused by a virus, whereas allergies are caused by an improper immune response to a benign substance like pollen. Allergies are caused by a compromised immune system (weak spleen and stomach qi) or by a state of excess inflammation (blood heat). Adding to the symptom set may be excessive phlegm (dampness, phlegm-cold, or phlegm-heat).
Treating the Root & Branch
Acupuncture can treat a variety of symptoms – sneezing, runny nose, headaches, sinus pressure, etc. From a Western perspective, this is achieved by boosting the body’s level of natural antihistamines through increased circulation and regulated release of body chemicals like cytokines.
Acupuncture also treats the underlying cause of allergies by reducing ‘heat’ and inflammation in the liver (aka detoxing) and by supporting digestion (clearing phlegm). Essentially, acupuncture helps to reduce the reactivity to pollens while helping each of the organ systems to work as well as they can (given their existing resources).
What Else Helps Allergies?
Common sense comes into play here. Poor sleep, overwork, and prolonged stressful situations will all compromise the immune system. Why? The body must use its finite resources for key functions, becoming less efficient at identifying and differentiating pathogenic from benign substances. Low quality diets further deprive the body of key nutrients. Lack of movement creates stagnation forcing the body to heat things up to get things moving; the byproduct here is more heat in the blood (aka inflammation). So a clean diet, plenty of rest, and daily exercise will go a long way towards reducing allergy symptoms.
Note: If your doctor tells you allergies are out of your hands, they are not telling you the whole story. Your diet and lifestyle play an outsize role on your overall health. Eating unhealthy food will make you more susceptible to all kinds of health issues, including chronic allergies.
Research on Acupuncture
How effective is acupuncture for allergies? A study published in Allergy Magazine (September 2004) showed that subjects treated with appropriate acupuncture points (vs. sham points) experienced considerable improvement of their allergy symptoms. They also reported other common benefits of acupuncture: less stress and more energy.
Xue, C. C., An, X., Cheung, T. P., Da Costa, C., Lenon, G. B., Thien, F. C., & Story, D. F. (2007). Acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis: a randomised, sham-controlled trial. Medical Journal of Australia, 187(6), 337-340.
Xue, C. C., English, R., Zhang, J. J., Da Costa, C., & Li, C. G. (2002). Effect of acupuncture in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled clinical trial. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 30(01), 1-11.
Ng, D. K., Chow, P. Y., Ming, S. P., Hong, S. H., Lau, S., Tse, D., … & Kwok, K. L. (2004). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of acupuncture for the treatment of childhood persistent allergic rhinitis. Pediatrics, 114(5), 1242-1247.
Brinkhaus, B., Hummelsberger, J., Kohnen, R., Seufert, J., Hempen, C. H., Leonhardy, H., … & Schuppan, D. (2004). Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized‐controlled clinical trial. Allergy, 59(9), 953-960.
Petti, F. B., Liguori, A., & Ippoliti, F. (2002). Study on cytokines IL-2, IL-6, IL-10 in patients of chronic allergic rhinitis treated with acupuncture. Journal of traditional Chinese medicine. 22(2), 104-111