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Does alternative medicine work for allergies?

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Nasal allergies are common in children, and appear to be getting more common all the time. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture is often used to treat allergies. People report great results, but there have not been many scientific studies to verify whether this really works.

Researchers have evaluated a group of school-age children with chronic allergies. Half of the children received 2 sessions a week of acupuncture for 8 weeks; the other half got pretend acupuncture (placebo). In the real acupuncture group, needles were inserted to a depth of 1.2 - 2.4 cm, and the needles were rotated gently every 5 minutes over a 20-minute period in order to achieve 'qi'. For the pretend acupuncture treatments, real needles were used by real acupuncturists at real acupuncture points, but the needles were only inserted 0.3 cm, and they were not rotated -- in order to avoid 'qi'. The children, the parents, and the people evaluating the allergy symptoms didn't know which children were getting real acupuncture.

The results were published in the November 2004 issue of Pediatrics. Those who got real acupuncture had better allergy symptom scores and more symptom-free days, during both the treatment period and the months that followed. The effect lasted for about 10 weeks after the treatments ended -- about the length of an allergy season. Interestingly, when asked what they liked, the kids in the study preferred oral medicines to acupuncture needles, but preferred acupuncture twice a week to commonly prescribed daily steroid nasal sprays. Parents preferred acupuncture to medicines for treating their children. However, more studies need to be done on the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of allergic diseases.


True homeopathic or "like cures like" remedies are often criticized by allopathic (conventional) physicians because the remedies are so diluted that no molecules of the active ingredients remain. Advocates of homeopathy reply that the homeopathic remedies retain some sort of memory of the active ingredients even after they have gone, in much the same way that a soft pillow can recall the shape of a head even after the person has left.

It is not clear if homeopathic remedies work. More research is needed.

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