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Sticking it to allergies

Some say acupuncture is ending their misery, but the jury's still out.

By Karen Garloch
kgarloch@charlotteobserver.com
Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.

More Information

  • To prevent symptoms, limit exposure to allergens. Use a dehumidifier to reduce mold. Stay indoors during peak pollen hours. Keep windows closed. Change clothes after outdoor activity. Wear a mask when mowing. Use a filter for your air conditioner.

    Clear nasal passages with a mixture of one teaspoon of non-iodized salt with 8 ounces of warm water. Use a bulb syringe or a neti pot to pour from one nostril to another.

    Try herbal supplements, such as stinging nettles, butterbur and quercetin. See Dr. Andrew Weil's Web site, www.drweilselfhealing.com

    N.C. Acupuncture Licensing Board: www.ncalb.com.

    S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation: www.llr.state.sc.us.

    American Academy of Medical Acupuncture: www.medical acupuncture.org.


Like 50 million other Americans, Chris Drouin has allergies.

And like most of them, she took decongestants, antihistamines and nasal sprays just to make life bearable.

She also took lots of antibiotics for sinus infections.After 10 years, she got fed up and turned to Cornelius acupuncturist Deleon Best for help.

Today, using a combination of acupuncture and dietary changes, Drouin no longer needs allergy medicines. And she hasn't taken an antibiotic for more than a year.

“I'm breathing better than I have for 20 years,” said the 37-year-old Davidson resident.

Acupuncturists aren't surprised by this.

They've seen many allergy patients benefit from the therapy that has been part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

Most allergy sufferers still turn to medicines made popular by TV ads with blue skies and happy faces. But acupuncture is getting more attention.

Some studies show it is beneficial for allergy sufferers, but the question isn't settled. In England, a recent review of all published studies concluded the data don't support or refute the use of acupuncture for allergies.

Balancing body energy

Acupuncture is based on the belief that life energy, or qi (pronounced chee), flows through the body along 12 meridians.

By stimulating points on those meridians with needles, acupuncturists say energy and blood can be made to flow to places where they are deficient and away from where they're excessive. The goal is to balance the body's energy.

“If you just treat the symptoms, you are not really getting to the root of what's going on,” said Best, who graduated from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, N.M.

As Drouin lay on the table for her first treatment in April 2007, she felt the pressure in her sinuses shift. Some people respond right away, Best said. Others take days or weeks.

After three weeks of treatments, Drouin began cutting back on allergy medicines. She also began to eat differently to reduce what Best called the “dampness” in her body, as evidenced by excess mucus in her sinuses.

Best told Drouin that the raw, cold salads she was eating every day contributed to that dampness. Instead, he suggested eating warm foods, such as soup, and warm drinks, such as tea or water without ice.

Still an X factor

Most doctors don't know much about acupuncture.

Longtime Charlotte allergist John Klimas said he's heard it discussed at conferences and read some studies. But he added: “I really have no basis of information to make an opinion.”

It's difficult to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture by using standard Western approaches, said Steven Siroky, an acupuncturist with NorthEast Internal and Integrative Medicine in Concord.

“This is not the kind of medicine that easily lends itself to that kind of research,” he said.

Siroky, who graduated from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, said he has many patients, including children, whose allergies have improved.

“Acupuncture is the original mind-body-spirit medicine.”

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