Patients receiving acupuncture treatments for seasonal allergic rhinitis reported statistically significant improvements in symptoms and decreased use of medication compared to patients having standard treatment or sham acupuncture, but the clinical significance of the observed improvements is uncertain.
Allergic rhinitis (stuffy or runny nose caused by allergies) is an extremely common condition that affects approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population. Despite the availability of effective medications such as antihistamines, patients suffering from allergic rhinitis often seek alternative therapies for symptom relief.
Researchers randomly assigned 422 patients between the ages of 16 and 45 to receive 12 treatments of either acupuncture plus rescue medication (n=212); sham acupuncture plus rescue medication (n=102); or rescue medication alone (n=108) over an eight-week period during two consecutive allergy seasons. All patients in the trial could tak e up to two doses of cetirizine per day. If their symptoms were not adequately controlled with cetirizine, participants could be treated with an oral corticosteroid, but use of other anti-allergy medications was prohibited. After the first eight weeks, patients assessed their symptoms and reported use of medications.
Patients in the acupuncture plus rescue medication group had statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and medication use compared with the other two groups. This difference waned at the 16-week follow-up.
While the researchers cannot be sure if patient expectations about acupuncture affected their outcomes, the author of an accompanying editorial suggests that future acupuncture research should, as this study did, use acupuncture protocols that represent true clinical practice and compare acupuncture to other proven therapies rather than to sham acupuncture alone.