October 1, 2006 An allergy is an overreaction of the body to a normally harmless substance. When the immune system detects a protein it considers to be foreign or dangerous (called an allergen), it generates an antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). There is a different IgE for each protein or substance encountered. IgE antibodies act like a trouble-shooting missile. Then next time an allergen is detected, the IgE latches on to the protein. This causes the release of histamine and other chemicals that lead to inflammation and symptoms of an allergic reaction. In the case of respiratory allergies, the symptoms are called allergic rhinitis. Patients may experience sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes and itching of the eyes, nose or throat. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, about 35.9 million Americans have seasonal allergic rhinitis. The condition leads to 16.7 million visits to physician offices and costs over $6 billion/year. Some of the most common causes of allergic rhinitis include: pollen, mold spores, dust mites and pet dander. Treating Allergies The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergen. Since thats often not possible or practical, medications can be taken to control symptoms. Over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines and decongestants are helpful for many patients. Special drops can relieve some of the stinging, itching, burning, or irritation in the eyes. Nasal sprays may help to reduce inflammation and congestion. Patients with more severe symptoms, or those who are unable to tolerate allergy medicines, may benefit from immunotherapy (allergy shots). Doctors first perform testing to determine which substances are causing the allergies. Then, patients are periodically given allergy shots for the specific allergen(s). The allergy shots contain small doses of the allergen. At first, the dose is so small that it doesnt cause the body to react. As the immune system adjusts to this level of exposure, the dose is slightly increased. Gradually, the patient gets higher doses of the allergen extract, until the body no longer responds to normal levels of environmental exposure. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates immunotherapy is successful in 90 percent of those with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Acupuncture for Allergic Rhinitis Acupuncture is a form of alterative medicine that is rooted in China more than 2000 years ago. The therapy uses very thin, solid needles placed at specific points on the body to restore the flow of vital energy (called Qi) through a network of pathways, or meridians. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine estimates 8.2 million American adults have used acupuncture at some point in their lives. Martha Grout, M.D., M.D. (H), Medical Director of The Crossroads Clinic in Phoenix, says over-the-counter allergy medications only temporarily ease the symptoms. Acupuncture, on the other hand, can be used to modify the bodys immune response to an allergen. When placed in an appropriate area, the acupuncture needles help dissipate excess energy. Grout recommends a series of six treatments. However, some patients see an effect after just one or two treatments. Researchers say about five percent of Americans use acupuncture to treat allergic rhinitis. In a study in the journal, Pediatrics, investigators compared the use of active acupuncture against sham acupuncture. After 8 weeks, the children who received active acupuncture had significantly lower symptom scores and a greater number of symptom-free days than those who received the sham treatment. AUDIENCE INQUIRY For information on medical uses of acupuncture: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, http://www.medicalacupuncture.org National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture For general information on allergic rhinitis: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, http://www.aaaai.org Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, http://www.aafa.org National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, http://www.niaid.nih.gov BIBLIOGRAPHY "Acupuncture," Bethesda: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, downloaded from website (http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture), September 7, 2006. "Acupuncture and Seasonal Allergies," Los Angeles: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, downloaded from website (http://www.medicalacupuncture.org), September 7, 2006. "Airborne Allergens," Bethesda: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, downloaded from website (http://www.niaid.nih.gov), September 7, 2006. "Allergic Rhinitis," Milwaukee: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, downloaded from website (http://www.aaaai.org), September 7, 2006. "Allergy Overview," Washington, DC: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, downloaded from website (http://www.aafa.org), September 7, 2006. "Allergy Statistics," Milwaukee: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, downloaded from website (http://www.aaaai.org), September 7, 2006. "Alternative Therapies," Washington, DC: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, downloaded from website (http://www.aafa.org), September 7, 2006. Berger, William, M.D., "Pediatric Allergic Rhinitis," Clinical Pediatrics, October 2005, Vol. 44, No. 8, pp. 655-664. Brinkhaus, B., et al., "Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine in the Treatment of Patients with Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis," Allergy, September 2004, Vol. 59, No. 9, pp. 953-960. "Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture," Los Angeles: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, downloaded from website (http://www.medicalacupuncture.org), September 7, 2006. LaRiccia, Patrick, M.D., "Acupuncture and Seasonal Allergies," Los Angeles: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, downloaded from website (http://www.medicalacupuncture.org), July 17, 2006. Magnusson, A., et al., "The Effect of Acupuncture on Allergic Rhinitis," American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2004, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 105-115. Meltzer, Eli, M.D., "Evaluation of the Optimal Oral Antihistamine for Patients With Allergic Rhinitis," Mayo Clinic Proceedings, September 2005, Vol. 80, No. 9, pp. 1170-1176. Ng, Daniel, et al., "A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Childhood Persistent Allergic Rhinitis," Pediatrics, November 2004, Vol. 114, No. 5, pp. 1242-1247. Passalacqua, G., et al., "ARIA Update: I - Systematic Review of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Rhinitis and Asthma," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 2006, Vol. 117, No. 5, pp. 1054-1062. Prenner, Bruce, M.D., and Eric Shenkel, M.D., "Allergic Rhinitis," The American Journal of Medicine, March 2006, Vol. 119, No. 3, pp. 230-237. Quillen, David, M.D., and David Feller, M.D., "Diagnosing Rhinitis," American Family Physician, May 1, 206, Vol. 73, No. 9, pp. 581-590. Wolfe, Stephanie, "Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 16-22, 2006, Vol. 102, No. 20, pp. 49-52. Xue, C., et al., "Does Acupuncture or Chinese Herbal Medicine Have a Role in the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis?" Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, June 2006, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 175-179.