Allergic rhinitis is becoming increasingly common. Persistent allergic rhinitis is characterized by nasal obstruction, sneezing, itching, or rhinorrhea that is present for more than four days a week and longer than four weeks. Little is known about the effect of acupuncture on allergic rhinitis in children or adults. Ng and colleagues conducted a study comparing acupuncture with a sham acupuncture treatment to determine whether acupuncture alleviates persistent allergic rhinitis symptoms.
During a run-in period, children six years and older recorded their nasal symptoms for four weeks (with help from parents or caregiver), after which participants were randomly assigned to an acupuncture or sham acupuncture treatment, which was carried out over eight weeks. The only medication used during this time was chlorpheniramine (Chlorate) as needed. Physical examinations were performed at baseline, after the run-in period, twice during treatment, and every four weeks for a total of 12 weeks of follow-up. In addition to nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal examinations, serum IgE levels and eosinophil counts were measured. Rhinitis and relief medication scores were recorded. Outcome measures were daily rhinitis scores and symptom-free days. Additional measures included visual analog scales assessing responses immediately after treatment, relief medication scores, statements of preference for a treatment, side effects, and laboratory results.
Of the initial 250 recruits, 35 patients were randomized to acupuncture and 37 to sham acupuncture, with three and five patients withdrawing from each group, respectively.
Symptoms were similar in both groups during the run-in period. The treatment group had significantly lower rhinitis scores at follow-up. During the treatment period, rhinitis scores almost reached significance. The treatment group had higher percentages of symptom-free days during treatment and follow-up and had higher visual analog scores. Use of relief medication was the same for both groups. No difference in laboratory results was noted between the two groups at any time during the study. Treatment preferences of the parents favored acupuncture, sham or real, whereas the patients preferred chlorpheniramine.
In this double-blind, randomized controlled trial, acupuncture improved symptoms with no significant differences between laboratory measures of eosinophilia or IgE levels. Acupuncture was well tolerated and often preferred by patients and parents.