Most of us are familiar with acupuncture’s link to reducing pain, but if the tiny needles are inserted at other points in the body, can they relieve the itchy eyes and sneezing associated with seasonal allergies? While there is still little evidence proving the practice works, researchers are studying the ancient eastern practice to document its benefits or risks for treating allergy symptoms.
The placebo effect may be contributing to some of the relief reported by some allergy sufferers, as one recent investigation published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found. In that study, the needles, even if they were placed at random points on the body, seemed to help people who felt their medications were not adequately controlling their symptoms. Among a group of 422 people who tested positive for pollen allergies and had allergic nasal symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose, those who received antihistamines and true acupuncture at points intended to relieve allergy symptoms, as well as those who were treated with antihistamines and random needle placements, reported fewer symptoms two weeks later compared to those taking just antihistamines.
More studies are needed to determine if acupuncture has a physiological effect in reducing allergic reactions, but if the treatments relieve symptoms and don’t cause harm, says the study’s author Dr. Benno Brinkhaus of the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics at Charité University Medical Center in Berlin, they could be useful. “From my experience as a physician and acupuncturist, and as a researcher, I would recommend trying acupuncture if patients are not satisfied with the conventional anti-allergic medication or treatment or they suffer from more or less serious sides effects of the conventional medication,” Brinkhaus told TIME in discussing the results. “Also because acupuncture is a relative safe treatment.”