Running nose. Persistent sneezing. Itchy eyes.
Most of us by now are thinking of annoying allergies. Some of us might only have these symptoms as a part of seasonal allergies to mold spores or pollens from grass and weeds that appear in the spring. Others get to face perennial allergies, where the allergen that annoys them, such as pet hair, is around year-round. Both of these forms of environmental allergies are considered allergic rhinitis.
Why Do We Have Environmental Allergies?
Typically, these pollens and pet hairs are not a danger to us, and yet in allergies, our immune systems react. Why? Our immune systems sometimes can misbehave and become overreacted. Factors that can lead to this overreaction include genetics, poor diet, stress, pollution exposure, and more.
Can Acupuncture Provide Allergy Symptom Relief?
Since allergies can be annoying misbehavior of the immune system, a therapy that can address this component holds the potential to provide relief. As a constitutional therapy, acupuncture interacts with the immune system. Acupuncture is a modulator, calming overactive responses and strengthening underactive pathways.
A systematic review of 13 studies, including a total of 2,365 participants, found those that received acupuncture to have a significant reduction in nasal symptoms, medication usage, and serum IgE.
IgE is the antibody in our body responsible for allergic responses. Antibodies are the tags to help identify potential threats in our body for destruction.
IgE reductions reveal a reduction in allergies because higher levels are associated with a higher allergic burden, higher inflammatory state, and more disruptive symptoms.
While antihistamines can dampen the immune response, helping relieve those pesky symptoms, acupuncture can correct the behavior of the immune system without drug damage.
A study in 2016 compared 38 participants receiving acupuncture to 38 participants receiving Budesonide nasal spray with Cetrizin tablets for the management of severe allergic rhinitis. After 8 weeks, there was no significant difference between the two groups suggesting that acupuncture therapy had a comparable effect to the medication treatment.
These effects included reductions in clinical symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, nasal itching). The scores in each group did significantly decrease (p<0.05). Notably, the acupuncture group had no severe adverse effects.
Another randomized controlled trial compared 61 participants who either received acupuncture or sham acupuncture for allergic rhinitis. The difference between the forms of acupuncture was the depth of the needles administered.
The study lasted 4 weeks where acupuncture or sham acupuncture was administered twice a week. The average total nasal symptom score was significantly lower in the acupuncture group than in the control group.
And not only were symptoms relieved during those four weeks, but during a 12-week follow-up period, the medication dosage in the treatment group was significantly lower than in the control group. This result suggests that acupuncture can support the body beyond short-term symptom relief.
Chinese Herbs to Relieve Environmental Allergy Symptoms
Instead of blunting the immune system, traditional Chinese medicine works to “re-educate” the immune system to no longer view an allergen as a danger. Chinese herbal medicines are commonly utilized to modulate the immune response to allergens by regulating IgE, T cell responses, and cytokine activity.
Chinese herbs commonly included for allergic rhinitis include magnolia flower, xanthium fruit, astragalus root, paniculate cynanchum, scutellaria root, cicada molting, stephania root, and licorice root. The anti-allergic mechanisms of Chinese herbs include lower IgE levels to reduce the tagging of allergens for destruction.
A smaller load of allergens identified in the immune system reduces the amount of histamine released in the body. And some Chinese herbs directly act on inhibiting this release. While this might sound like some antihistamine drugs such as Benadryl, those work by blocking the receptors that histamine binds to trigger activity. A reduction in histamine activity produces a reduction in what you may feel as a stuffy nose or watery eyes.
In 2010, a randomized double-blind study in Taiwan evaluated a Chinese herb, Zin-yi-san (XYS), specific for allergic rhinitis relief. In Taiwan, perennial allergic rhinitis (allergies year-round) affects 43.6% of the population.
Therefore, significant attention is placed on the management of allergies.
Participants either received the XYS or a placebo for three months. Symptom outcomes measured included nasal symptoms and nasal airflow resistance.
To evaluate the direct effects on the immune system, the study measured serum IgE, Th1, Th2, the proinflammatory cytokine IL-8, along with other biomarkers. XYS was found to not only reduce nasal symptoms but to additionally produce immunomodulatory effects including reductions in serum IgE and increased production of IL-8 compared to the placebo group.
Gyokuheifu-san (Yu Ping Feng San) is a traditional Chinese herbal formula that acts to reduce the response to allergic triggers. An animal study in 2004 compared the frequency of sneezing in response to Japanese cedar pollens in those that received GHS to those that received Tranilast, an anti-allergy drug.
The GHS significantly reduced the frequency of sneezing during treatment and even reduced nose-scratching behavior after the end of the administration in comparison to the group that received Tranilast. This study, while not on humans, suggests that GHS could interact with the immune system in a greater therapeutic manner than a common anti-allergy drug.
Many of us might think that environmental allergies are sneezes and runny noses that we are stuck taking medications for every spring. However, the above information provides some evidence that other options exist to support our bodies.