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Allergic Rhinitis and Acupuncture

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are often recommended for treating allergies. Acupuncture, often with Chinese Herbs, can be an effective natural remedy for allergies. There is mixed research evidence supporting the use of these modalities as effective treatments for allergic rhinitis.

Effect of Acupuncture on Allergic Rhinitis

The exact effects of acupuncture are not clear in modern scientific terms. Acupuncture is believed to effect muscles, nerves, and body chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. In general traditional terms, acupuncture seeks to restore the normal circulation of energy within specific channels, called meridians, and improve overall health by promoting the balance of energy in the whole body. Acupuncture may help treat allergic rhinitis by balancing the immune response that causes allergic symptoms.

Read more details about Acupuncture.

Research Evidence on Acupuncture

There is mixed research evidence supporting the use of acupuncture or a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

A controlled trial of 40 people failed to find significantly more benefit with real acupuncture than with fake ("sham") acupuncture.30 However, another study found benefit with real acupuncture plus real traditional Chinese herbs as opposed to placebo acupuncture and nonspecific Chinese herbs.41 A carefully conducted review of 7 placebo-controlled trials failed to find convincing evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness against allergic rhinitis.67

Acupuncture alone has demonstrated some promise for treating allergic rhinitis in children.46 In another study involving a randomized, placebo-controlled trial enrolling 80 adult subjects, real acupuncture was superior to sham acupuncture after 8 weeks of treatment for symptoms of persistent allergic rhinitis.64

Findings from acupuncture studies are often considered limited because acupuncture cannot be performed according to the double-blind method preferred in rigorous scientific research. Practitioners administering treatment know whether they are providing genuine or fake (sham) acupuncture, and they may unconsciously communicate this to the subjects in the study. Proponents of acupuncture argue that this does not mean that acupuncture is not effective, but that the human relationship and other intangible elements are important aspects of the treatment.

How to Use Acupuncture

For more information, see the section, "What to Expect During an Acupuncture Treatment," in the acupuncture article.

Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment

Acupuncture may be practiced by a variety of professionals, and licensure laws in the United States vary by state. Look for a licensed acupuncturist ("L.Ac."). Other health professionals such as naturopaths, chiropractors and physicians might also use acupuncture as part of their practice.

For more information, see "How to Choose a Qualified Acupuncturist" in the acupuncture article.

Safety Issues

Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. 1,2 The most commonly reported problems include short-term pain from needle insertion, tiredness, and minor bleeding. There is one report of infection caused by acupuncture given to a person with diabetes. 3 Some acupuncture points lie over the lungs and insertion to excessive depth could conceivably cause a pneumothorax (punctured lung). Because acupuncturists are trained to avoid this complication, it is a rare occurrence.

A recent report from China contained an example of another complication caused by excessively deep needling. 4 A 44-year-old man was needled on the back of the neck at a commonly used acupuncture point just below the bony protuberance at the base of the skull. However, the acupuncturist inserted the needle too deeply and punctured a blood vessel in the skull. The client developed a severe headache with nausea and vomiting; a CAT scan showed bleeding in the brain, and a spinal tap found a small amount of blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. The severe headache, along with neck stiffness, continued for 28 days. The man was treated with standard pain medication, and the condition resolved itself without any permanent effects.

Infection due to the use of unclean needles has been reported in the past, but the modern practice of using disposable sterile needles appears to have eliminated this risk.


  1. Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
  2. MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 323(7311):486-7.
  3. Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
  4. Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.
  1. Magnusson AL, Svensson RE, Leirvik C, et al. The effect of acupuncture on allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Am J Chin Med. 2004;32:105-15.
  2. Brinkhaus B, Hummelsberger J, Kohnen R, et al. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized-controlled clinical trial. Allergy. 2004;59:953-690.
  3. Ng DK, Chow PY, Ming SP, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of acupuncture for the treatment of childhood persistent allergic rhinitis. Pediatrics. 2004;114:1242-1247.
  4. Acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis: a randomised, sham-controlled trial. SourceMedical Journal of Australia. 2007;187:337-341.
  5. Roberts J, Huissoon A, Dretzke J, et al. A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 Apr 22.

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