An estimated 20% of the UK’s population suffers from allergic rhinitis (an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways). One of the common causes of these allergic reactions is dust mites – tiny creatures that tend to like sharing close quarters with humans. The allergic reactions do not occur because of the mites themselves, but are triggered by certain proteins that are found in their microscopic droppings.

For people who find they are wheezing, getting eczema, or having other strong allergic reactions as a result of dust mites, there are a series of recommendations that can go some way to helping reduce the symptoms. These include: using allergen-proof materials on beds and pillows; washing all bedding at a high temperature (60 degrees of above); removing carpeting in the bedroom; increasing ventilation in the room; and vacuuming and cleaning all surfaces regularly.

In terms of medical treatment, the most common medications are antihistamines which help to block the allergic reaction and the sensation of itching. Of the commonly prescribed medications is loratadine, a ‘non-drowsy antihistamine’.

In a recent paper on acupuncture for allergic rhinitis, researchers compared the effects of acupuncture versus loratadine.(1) Although the sample size was small (24 patients) the methods were interesting because they combined the subjective views of the patients receiving treatment, and objective ‘rhinoconjunctivitis symptom scores’ based on specific biological and immune reactions within the patients’ bodies.

Although there were no changes in immunoglobulin levels –  an indicator of a person’s level of allergic reaction – other immune system changes showed that both the acupuncture and the loratadine were having an impact. Overall, both treatments had an effect on the allergic reaction of patients.
The paper concludes that: Acupuncture is a clinically effective form of therapy in the treatment of patients suffering from persistent allergic rhinitis. The results indicate the probability of an immunomodulatory effect.

In other words, acupuncture is able to produce a change, or modulation, in the body’s immune system. A number of other studies have shown this before.(2) What acupuncture research needs now are larger sample sizes: more patients and larger trials.

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*With apologies for the pun in the title of this blog post

References

(1).     Hauswald B, Dill C, Boxberger J, Kuhlisch E, Zahnert T, Yarin YM. The effectiveness of acupuncture compared to loratadine in patients allergic to house dust mites. Journal of Allergy. 2014;2014:654632.

(2).     Joos S, Schott C, Zou H, Daniel V, Martin E. Immunomodulatory effects of acupuncture in the treatment of allergic asthma: a randomized controlled study. Journal Alternative Complementary Medicine N Y N. 2000 Dec;6(6):519–25.