This was the first question out of the mouth of a new patient in my office recently.
Her eyes were reddened and her voice revealed serious nasal congestion. She looked exhausted. She had tried several medications with significant side effects without lasting benefit.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. Hundreds of millions of people have been treated with this ancient technique throughout the world. It has been found to be helpful for a wide range of ailments. For a growing number of Americans, acupuncture is an integral part of their healthcare.
The patient that sat in my office had read an online article about acupuncture treatment for allergies. The article was written by a medical doctor that uses acupuncture. The doctor was very positive about acupuncture’s benefit for many patients suffering with allergies. In fact, the doctor had found complete relief for her own allergies through acupuncture treatment.
The research on acupuncture treatment of allergies is mixed.
Interestingly, some research found that it was helpful for patients that experience chronic allergies to triggers such as cats, dogs, dust or perfumes, while other studies found it more helpful for seasonal allergies triggered by specific plant pollens.
The research is likely mixed because acupuncture in practice is a very individualized form of treatment. Each separate treatment session is unique, intended to be appropriate for that individual patient at that particular time.
Conversely, research studies usually require that all patients receive the exact same treatment to control variables. Because of this contradiction between research standards and real-life application of a treatment such as acupuncture, the research will always be incomplete and limited in value.
In my clinical experience, acupuncture can benefit some people immensely, while others may have a more modest response. Overall, the majority of patients experience a very favorable response.
Acupuncture can sometimes bring about an immediate improvement in symptoms. In other cases it may require a few treatments before a significant benefit is seen.
Exactly how it works in the body is still not completely understood. That is one of the fascinating aspects of this unique form of treatment. It is effective for a wide range of conditions. Research has demonstrated that it has specific effects upon the nervous system, neurotransmitters and hormones. Improved immune function is also possible.
During an acupuncture treatment, you will lie comfortably on a table much like a massage table. The provider will take a medical history to learn what symptoms you may be experiencing and get an idea of how well your body is functioning as a whole.
A number of needles will be gently inserted into specific points. The needles are tiny. Surprisingly, there is usually no pain with acupuncture.
Some acupuncture providers use only a few needles, while others may use more than a dozen. The number of insertions can vary from one treatment session to another. In modern clinics, only sterile, single-use, disposable needles are used. Acupuncture is very safe when provided by a well-trained, licensed provider.
In some cases the needles will be removed after only a few seconds, but it is common for the needles to be left in place for ten to thirty minutes. Most new patients are surprised that the treatment is so relaxing and comfortable. Patients may even fall asleep during the session.
Typically a series of sessions is recommended. In many cases it may require only six to ten sessions to resolve a complaint. Chronic conditions may require a longer series of sessions.
There are many treatment options available for allergy sufferers. Acupuncture is growing in popularity due to the fact that no drugs are used and side effects are minimal. Patients may feel fatigued after an initial treatment, or in some cases they may feel a significant increase in energy.
Patients often ask if the benefits are lasting. This varies as well. Some patients may need ongoing treatments while others have found, like the doctor that wrote the article, that their allergy problem resolves and does not come back.
Next week: Why some allergy specialists are now using liquid drops instead of injections. Also: Why some common foods may make allergy symptoms worse!