Acupuncture can reduce symptoms of hay fever — for a little while

Acupuncture is the crown jewel of alternative medicine, recommended for issues like chronic pain and osteoarthritis. Lately, the age-old treatment has been promoted as a way to relieve hay fever. But is there any real benefit?

Recently, a team of researchers designed a large trial to figure that out. The results indicated that acupuncture can help, but the benefits are short-lived. In the study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists recruited 422 people with allergies to grass and pollen and randomly assigned them to one of three groups. One group received 12 acupuncture treatments over eight weeks. Another was given sham acupuncture treatments equivalent to placebo, and a third group received no treatment. Each group had access to an antihistamine “rescue medication.”

After eight weeks, those in the acupuncture group had greater improvements in symptoms, compared with subjects in the other two groups, and they used the antihistamine less frequently. But after an additional eight weeks, the improvements had faded away, the study found.

A similar study published this month in the journal Allergy also found that acupuncture treatments, given three times a week over four weeks, relieved allergy symptoms compared with a sham procedure. But the study did not follow up with the patients long-term.

Acupuncture may make a difference, but only, it seems, with regular treatments — which are not inexpensive. One session can run $65 to $120, and some insurers are reluctant to cover it.

The bottom line: Studies suggest that acupuncture can help with symptoms of hay fever, but the effects may be short-lived.

— Anahad O’Connor, New York Times News Service