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Relieving seasonal allergies with acupuncture?

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It’s that time again: Spring allergy seasons in most areas of the United States are starting approximately two to three weeks earlier in the past decade. 

That means a late winter "cold" and the sniffles may really be the early onset of tree pollen misery.

In my practice, I have found treating pesky seasonal symptoms early and using a focused approach based upon accurate allergy test results, is a superior way to prevent worsening sneezing, sniffles, itchy and watery eyes, even before they kick in. 

Being proactive allows the nose time to get ready for pollens, chiefly trees that cause swelling of the nasal lining, thus making it easier for nasal medicines to work better. 

A recent study out of Germany, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests a modest effect of acupuncture for those who suffer from seasonal allergies.  Researchers studied the effect of acupuncture over eight weeks and reported a decrease in allergy symptoms.  The exact mechanism is not known or even clear; however, it may be due to an effect on the immune system. In some cases, it appeared a reduction in the amount of allergy medications might be possible.

A successful, individual action plan to prevent and treat allergies wisely may include other adjunctive or complementary approaches. Washing wisely means using over-the-counter nasal saline sprays to wash or dilute pollens from hanging out in your nose and sinuses. Some of the best and most effective nasal sprays include topical steroids and/or antihistamines, which focus  attention locally in the nose, providing pretty fast relief. A great option for those sensitive to medications is a cayenne or chili pepper nasal spray.  On a high pollen day, consider gently irrigating your eyelids daily, as well as shampooing your hair in the evening to reduce the amount of airborne pollens from getting trapped.

Bottom line: Work with your allergist after proper testing to get your game plan in place before the start of the upcoming allergy season to feel and look better. 

It appears acupuncture may be helpful when combined with Western treatments, but be sure to discuss with your allergist before changing or stopping any medications. Poorly controlled allergies can certainly affect how you look and feel.  

Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomat of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY.  Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of Medicine and Otolaryngology at SUNY LICH. Follow him on Twitter.