Acupuncture Worthwhile for Hay Fever Sufferers

Acupuncture added to standard treatment helps improve quality of life in people with hay fever, German researchers report.

Moreover, it's worth the extra cost, Dr. Claudia M. Witt of Charite University Medical Center in Berlin and her colleagues found, especially for women.

Hay fever, known medically as allergic rhinitis, has become more common over the past two decades, Witt and her team note in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The condition is costly to society, both in terms of lost productivity and treatment costs.

Up to 19 percent of people with allergic rhinitis use acupuncture to help treat their symptoms, the researchers note. In Germany, acupuncture is typically given by doctors, but is not reimbursed by health insurers.

To examine how the costs of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis relates to its benefits, Witt and her team used an equation called the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER). This allowed them to calculate how much it would cost for a person to gain an additional year of good quality of life based on having acupuncture for allergic rhinitis.

Based on international standards, up to 50,000 euros (about $63,000) for every extra "quality adjusted life year," or QALY, is considered to be cost-effective.

The researchers looked at 981 patients with allergic rhinitis. All were getting usual care, but 487 were assigned to have acupuncture also. These patients averaged about 10 sessions over the three-month study. Costs for treating these patients averaged about 763 euros ($960), compared to 332 euros ($420) for the comparison group.

At three months, average quality of life was better for the acupuncture group, but this was mostly due to improvements for women. There was no significant benefit for men.

The cost per QALY was 10,155 euros for women ($12,800) and 44,871 euros ($57,000) for men.

It's not clear why women fared better, the researchers note; one study of acupuncture for chronic neck pain also showed better results for women. Witt and her team have also shown that women have higher expectations of acupuncture for pain treatment than men, they add, which could be a factor.

As Witt told Reuters Health via e-mail, the findings show that "if patients suffering from allergic rhinitis use acupuncture in addition to usual care they have better quality of life compared to those patients who use only usual care. This acupuncture treatment results in additional costs; however, according to international benchmarks it is cost-effective."