HealthDay News — An eight-week acupuncture course improved disease-specific quality of life and reduced antihistamine use in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR), researchers found.

But the benefits were short-lived, and not noticeable eight weeks after treatment ended, Benno Brinkhaus, MD, of the Charité-University Medical Center in Berlin, and colleagues reported in Annals of Internal Medicine.

About 18% of patients with SAR use acupuncture as therapy despite limited evidence regarding it’s clinical benefit. To better understand whether the treatment is effective, the researchers conducted a randomized, three-arm, controlled study in 422 patients with SAR at six hospital clinics and 32 private outpatient clinics. 

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Treatments consisted of acupuncture plus cetirizine (Zyrtec, Reactine) as rescue medication (RM), sham acupuncture plus RM, or RM alone. Patients were permitted to use an oral corticosteroid if RM was inadequate. A total of 12 treatments were provided over an eight-week period.

After eight weeks, those in the acupuncture arms were followed for another eight weeks, while those who had been on rescue medication alone were offered real acupuncture for eight weeks. The two primary endpoints were changes in Rhinitis Quality of Life Questionnaire scores and RM use from baseline to weeks seven and eight.

Acupuncture patients had an average quality of life score that was 0.5 points better than those in the sham group and 0.7 points better than those in the medication-only group (97.5% CI: 0.2-0.8 and 0.4-1.0, respectively), the researchers found.

RM scores that were 1.1 points better for those in the acupuncture group than those in the sham group, and 1.5 points better than those in the rescue medication group (97.5% CI: 0.4-1.9 and 0.8-2.2, respectively).

However, no differences were observed after 16 weeks in the first year, and only small nonsignificant improvements favoring acupuncture over sham acupuncture or RM were noted in the second year.

“The effectiveness of acupuncture for SAR compared with other antiallergic interventions and the possible underlying mechanisms of any effect, including context effects, need to be addressed in further research,” the researchers wrote.

Despite the need for more studies, Jongbae Park, DKM, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Remy Coeytaux, MD, PhD, of Duke University, wrote that the study provides “compelling support to the effectiveness of real-world acupuncture,” in an accompanying editorial.


  1. Brinkhaus B et al. Ann Intern Med. 2013; 158(4): 225-234.
  2. Coeytaux RR, Park JJ. Ann Intern Med. 2013; 158(4): 287-288.