Jillian L. Capodice, LAc examines the role of acupuncture and Traditional Oriental Medicine in aiding seasonal allergies.

by  Jillian L. Capodice, LAc 

Seasonal allergies are categorized as allergic rhinitis and/or hay fever.  Allergic rhinitis is characterized by “sneezing; rhinorrhea; obstruction of the nasal passages; conjunctival, nasal, and pharyngeal itching; and lacrimation, all occurring in a temporal relationship to allergen exposure” (1).  While seasonal allergies and hay fever are commonly due to airborne environmental allergens such as weeds, pollen, and other plant-based allergens, other airborne allergens can cause allergic rhinitis such as pet dander and rodent droppings.  In North America, the prevalence of allergic rhinitis is close to 25% of the adult population (1).

In Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM), seasonal allergies/hay fever diagnosis is commonly based on zang-fu or meridian theory.  In zang-fu theory, spleen-stomach and lung-large intestine patterns are frequent.  Excess pathologies may include abundant heat; vacuous pathologies are often deficient heat or abundant dampness. Utilizing meridian theory, yin/yang qiao meridian disharmonies and foot yang ming meridian blockages are common patterns. In order to effectively treat seasonal allergies, acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional therapy and qi gong are common practices utilized from the TOM armamentarium.  Below a brief synopsis of recent research is reported.

A quick look at recent research:  Acupuncture 

 Year                 Authors                     Title                              Description            Comments                        Points


2008, BMC Complement Altern Med

Roberts J et al (2)

A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis.

7 relevant RCTs met inclusion and based on meta-analysis, there is inconclusive evidence

1 trial was in pediatric subjects, 6 were in adult.  As with many trials of allergic rhinitis, it was difficult to assess clinical significance with regard to symptom severity (with regard to both outcomes and clinical significance).


Assessed in full manuscript, not reported here

2007, eMJA

Xue CCL et al (3)

Acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis:  a randomized, sham controlled-trial

Randomised, single-blind, sham-controlled trial conducted from May 2004 to February 2005.


N=80 (ages, 16-70) randomized to real or sham acupuncture 2xweekly for 8 weeks. 12 weeks additional F/U.  Significant difference in real versus sham (p=0.01) utilizing TNSS.

Yingxiang (LI 20), Yintang (Extra point), and Fengchi (GB 20). A supplementary acupoint was determined on the basis of CM differentiation and included (LI 4), Zusanli (ST 36), or Qihai (CV 6)

2009, Am J epidemiol

Witt CM et al (4)

Cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in women and men with allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled study in usual care.

N=981.  Randomized trial of usual care for allergic rhinitis + usual care and 10 acupuncture treatments.  QOL and mean Physical Components cores were higher in the group that received usual care + acupuncture (p<0.001)

Cost was higher in the group receiving usual care + acupuncture but acupuncture as a supplement to routine cares was beneficial and cost effective (according to international benchmarks)

Unclear whether clinical benefits are specific to acupuncture. Points not reported.

CM: Chinese medicine            RCT: randomized controlled trial

F/U: follow up                         QOL: quality of life                            TNSS: total nasal symptom score


A quick search of clinical trials.gov revealed one currently recruiting study of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis in Germany (5).  The study’s expected enrollment is 400 and the primary outcome measure is Rhinitis Quality of Life Questionnaire score (RQLQ) (scores between weeks 6 and 8 of the first year) and the Rescue Medication Score (between weeks 6 and 8 of the first year).

Herbal MedicineThere were no clinical trials found of traditional oriental herbal medicine and seasonal allergies in my brief PubMed search.  However a number of dietary supplements including probiotics and vitamin E are under current investigation (6,7).

A few common formulas treating seasonal allergy patterns from the Materia Medica include (8):

– Chuan xiong cha tiao san (Ligusticum powder to be taken with green tea) for externally-contracted wind
– Ju hua cha tiao san (Chrysanthimum powder) for externally-contracted heat
– Ding chuan tang (Ginkgo bilobae, ephedrae decoction) for exterior wind-cold and interior heat

Qi gong 
There are no formal studies testing qi gong in subjects with allergic rhinitis and/or hay fever however the practice of qi gong may help to improve overall health and wellbeing and in TOM, can be practiced to strengthen the spleen and stomach (organs) and improve lung qi.  Both dynamic and static qi gong forms can be practiced and simple exercises that can be taught to the patient include simple breathing practices and circulation of qi from CV1 (Huiyin) to GV20 (Bai hui).  Other simple exercises include movements from the eight brocades.

In short TOM offers many potential treatments for symptoms related to seasonal allergies and hay fever.  Moreover, the practice of qi gong, good nutrition, proper sleep, herbal medicine and acupuncture may be quite valuable with regard to alleviating symptoms and maintaining good health.



1.  Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine.  Chapter 311, 17th Edition, McGraw Hill.

2. Roberts J, Huissoon A, Dretzke J, Wang D, Hyde C. A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 Apr 22;8:13.

3. Xue CC, An X, Cheung TP, Da Costa C, Lenon GB, Thien FC, Story DF. 17;187(6):337-41. Acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis: a randomised, sham-controlled trial. Med J Aust. 2007 Sep

4.  Witt CM, Reinhold T, Jena S, Brinkhaus B, Willich SN. Cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in women and men with allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled study in usual care. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Mar 1;169(5):562-71. Epub 2009 Jan 6.

5. Shahar E, Hassoun G, Pollack S.Effect of vitamin E supplementation on the regular treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2004 Jun;92(6):654-8.

6. Clinical Trials. Gov. http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00610584?term=seasonal+allergy+acupuncture&rank=1
Viewed May 18, 2009.

7. Vliagoftis H, Kouranos VD, Betsi GI, Falagas ME. Probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 Dec;101(6):570-9.

8. Bensky, D. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Formulas and Strategies. Seattle, Washington, Eastland Press; 1990.


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