While many people wait all summer for the transition to fall — cozy cardigans, warm spices, and crunching leaves can be so comforting — some of us dread the change. For me, the word “autumn” means “rhinitis.” Each morning, my mirror greets me with a puffy face and I have at least two sneezing fits before breakfast. I shared my woes to a friend, who told me about acupuncture for allergies.
The recommendation caught me off guard. I usually hear about nasal sprays, the Neti pot, or a spoonful of local honey — not needle therapy. Still, my friend said she had tried everything and acupuncture worked the best. She also mentioned that while it was expensive, her private health insurer partially covered her sessions. Intrigued, I reached out to an allergist and an acupuncturist to learn more.
The Theory Behind Acupuncture for Allergies
In Chinese medicine, the “point” of acupuncture is to balance your body’s natural flow of energy, or qi (pronounced “chi”). “Acupuncture theory states that energy, or qi, flows throughout the body via meridians,” says Jamie Bacharach, licensed medical acupuncturist and Head of Practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem. “When these channels are disrupted, it leads to illness, weakness, and allergies in some instances. By properly diagnosing the imbalance and treating the correct acupuncture points accordingly, allergies can be cured.”
Whether or not you practice the theory of qi, research shows that while acupuncture might not cure allergies, it has certainly helped many people. The idea is that it boosts blood circulation and stimulates the body to release pain-relieving neurotransmitters, which help relax muscles and reduce inflammation. It’s these pain mitigation benefits that may nix allergy symptoms, too.
“One of the most effective natural means to relieve allergies is acupuncture treatment,” confirms Bacharach. “Allergies can be caused by an energy imbalance within the body that an experienced acupuncturist can diagnose, address, and correct, thus relieving the allergy and its symptoms.”
What an Allergist Thinks
Wondering whether allergists agree? Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, chief allergist of Ready, Set, Food!, thinks that acupuncture can work for fall allergies as long as it’s not the only solution. “I believe that acupuncture can complement the treatment of many atopic disorders including allergic rhinitis,” she says. “Studies are equivocal, meaning some show positive results while others do not show a difference. However, acupuncture is relatively safe. It can therefore be a nice alternative or complement to conventional allergic rhinitis treatment, such as oral antihistamines, nasal steroid or antihistamine sprays, and immunotherapy.”
Dr. Marks-Cogan also notes that the effectiveness will depend on the severity of your allergy and just how open you are to an alternative treatment.
Indeed, research shows that your openness to treatment may affect your results. In one study on acupuncture for allergies, patients who received fake treatments (needles were placed randomly on the body) experienced some relief. It wasn’t as much relief as the patients who got real acupuncture, but it nonetheless suggests that there was a placebo effect. (During a placebo effect, patients feel better simply because they think they will after treatment.)
How Long It Takes to See Results
According to Bacharach, the number of acupuncture sessions you’ll need will depend on your symptoms. “It depends on the patient and the case in question, but in most instances, patients experience at least some relief after one or two sessions,” she says. “In more extreme cases in which the patient has been suffering from allergies for years, more sessions may be necessary.
“In a general sense, weekly treatments are typically needed at first to keep the symptoms under control before gradually transitioning to less-frequent maintenance treatments (bi-weekly, monthly, etc.).”
If you’re interested in a treatment but worried about the pain, don’t be. Acupuncturists say that the experience shouldn’t be painful. If it is, you can always ask your practitioner to adjust the needles. “Acupuncture represents a very low-risk, very high-reward treatment for allergies and a host of other nagging ailments and illnesses,” concludes Bacharach.
With three affirmations to think about (from my friend, an acupuncturist, and an allergist), I might just sign up for my first appointment. If you’ve ever tried acupuncture, let me know how it went in the comments below.