In a new study, Dr. Florian Pfab, of the Technical University of Munich and colleagues looked at the short-term effects of acupuncture on skin inflammation and itching in 30 people with atopic eczema.
They found that the therapy, when done minutes after patients' skin was exposed to an allergen (either pollen or dust mites), appeared to soothe subjective feelings of itchiness and that, when patients were exposed to the allergen for a second time shortly after the acupuncture session, they tended to have a less-severe skin reaction.
Dr Pfab and his colleagues looked at all 30 patients under three different test conditions. In one, patients had their skin exposed to either pollen or dust-mite allergens, then received true, or ‘point-specific’ acupuncture - in which needles were placed in traditional acupuncture points related to itchy skin.
In the second, the allergen exposure was followed by ‘placebo-point’ acupuncture, where the needles were inserted into skin areas not used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the third condition, patients received no treatment.
Overall, Pfab's team found, patients' itchiness ratings were lower after they received true acupuncture, compared with both no treatment and placebo acupuncture. When the researchers exposed patients' skin to the allergens a second time, skin flare-ups tended to be less severe following the point-specific acupuncture. However, both the true and placebo therapies had similar benefits as regards itchiness, compared with no treatment.
Modern research has suggested that acupuncture may help ease pain by altering signals among nerve cells or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system.
Since pain and itchiness have similarities in their underlying mechanisms, so acupuncture's effects on pain mechanisms may also account for the benefits seen in this study.
Allergy, online December 11, 2009.
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