Still, Nelson added, there are people who want to avoid medication, and they may be interested in acupuncture as an option.
Many studies have suggested that acupuncture helps ease various types of pain, such as migraines and backaches, as well as treat nausea and vomiting related to surgery or chemotherapy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by stimulating certain points on the skin believed to affect the flow of energy, or "qi" (pronounced "chee"), through the body.
But some recent research suggests that the needle stimulation also triggers the release of pain- and inflammation-fighting chemicals in the body. No one is sure why acupuncture would help with hay fever, but there is evidence that it curbs inflammatory immune-system substances involved in allergic reactions.
For the new study, Brinkhaus and colleagues recruited 422 adults with hay fever. They randomly assigned the patients to one of three groups: one that received 12 acupuncture sessions over eight weeks; one that received a "sham" version of acupuncture; and one that received no acupuncture.
In the sham version, acupuncturists used real needles, but inserted them only superficially and into areas of the skin that are not traditional acupuncture points. Patients in all three groups were allowed to take antihistamine medication when their symptoms flared up.
After eight weeks, the study found, patients given real acupuncture reported more symptom improvement than those in either of the comparison groups. On average, their quality-of-life "scores" were 0.5 to 0.7 points better -- which, in real life, should translate to a noticeable difference in hay fever symptoms, according to Nelson.
Brinkhaus, who is a medical doctor and acupuncturist, said he would recommend acupuncture to patients who are not satisfied with allergy medication -- either b
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