Your sinuses are four connected spaces in your skull, found behind your forehead, eyes, nose, and cheeks. They produce mucus that drains directly into your nose and through it, helping keep bacteria, dirt, and other irritants out.

Generally, your sinuses are empty except for air that moves through the channels linking them. But allergies or a cold can block them up. Certain pollutants, like dust or smoke, and nasal growths called polyps can also cause blockages.

If your sinuses are blocked, you might feel like there’s pressure building up in your face. You might also feel congested and develop a headache. While over-the-counter decongestants can provide some short-term relief, they aren’t great for long-term use.

If you want to try a more natural route or have a recurring sinus issues acupuncture may help.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your health depends on the flow of qi (energy) in your body. This energy travels along invisible pathways, known as meridians. These are found throughout your body.

Qi is believed to help keep your body in balance and promote its natural ability to heal itself. A blocked or disrupted flow of qi can negatively impact physical and emotional well-being.

During an acupuncture session, very thin needles are inserted into your skin to stimulate certain points, based on the symptoms you’re addressing. This stimulation, according to TCM, helps to clear blockages along your meridians, restoring the flow of qi through your body.

People use acupuncture to help with a range of sinus issues, including headaches, pressure, pain, and nasal congestion.

There are hundreds of acupuncture points across your body. If you try acupuncture, the acupuncturist will take a detailed history of your symptoms before deciding what acupuncture points to use.

Keep in mind that certain points are linked to multiple uses, and not all practitioners use the same points.

Some common acupuncture points used to treat sinus issues or allergic rhinitis include:

  • Bitong (EM7)
  • Yingxiang (LI20)
  • Hegu (LI4)
  • Quchi (LI11)
  • Juliao (ST3)
  • Yangbai (GB14)
  • Fenglong (ST40)
  • Shangxing (GV23)
  • Sibai (ST2)
  • Zanzhu (BI2)

There aren’t many studies about the effects of acupuncture on sinus problems. However, there are several studies about the benefits of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis involves inflammation of the mucus membranes in your nose in response to allergens, which can cause a range of sinus-related issues, including:

  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • headache
  • pressure in your face, around your sinuses
  • postnasal drip

According to a 2014 review of multiple randomized controlled trials, acupuncture may provide some relief from allergy symptoms, though more studies are needed. Another 2014 review made similar conclusions.

A 2015 review additionally found that acupuncture may have some advantages over antihistamines, thought the studies suggesting these were very small.

the verdict

There’s some evidence that acupuncture can help to manage allergic rhinitis, which causes a range of sinus-related symptoms. While the existing research is promising, many more large, high-quality studies are needed.

When performed by a trained and experienced acupuncturist, acupuncture is generally safe, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

But if acupuncture isn’t performed correctly or needles aren’t sterile, you may be at risk for serious side effects. Licensed acupuncturists in the United States must use disposable needles, so receiving acupuncture from a licensed professional should minimize your risk of complications.

Some people do experience mild side effects after an acupuncture, session, including:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • pain or tenderness around the involved areas

It’s also best to avoid acupuncture if you:

  • are pregnant, as some points can induce labor
  • have a pacemaker, which could be affected by the mild electric pulse that’s sometimes used with acupuncture needles
  • take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder

If you’ve decided to give acupuncture a try, it’s essential to choose a qualified acupuncturist. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers licensing programs and examinations, but specific licensing requirements vary by state.

When looking for an acupuncturist, keep in mind that a licensed acupuncturist is not the same as a certified acupuncturist. Doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals may have certification in acupuncture and a few hundred hours of training, but they may have less experience working with patients.

Licensed acupuncturists, on the other hand, typically have a few thousand hours of training and must treat a certain number of people before being licensed.

You can also ask your primary care physician for a referral or search the NCCAOM acupuncturist registry. Once you’ve found a provider, you can call your state licensing board to make sure they’re licensed to practice in your state.

Things you might ask before making an appointment include:

  • how long the acupuncturist has been working with clients
  • whether they’ve treated sinus issues with acupuncture before
  • how long treatment will take
  • whether they accept insurance or offer a sliding-scale payment system

If you’re worried about pain or discomfort, let them know. They may be able to address your concerns and help you feel more comfortable before your first session.

Acupuncture usually takes numerous treatments over several weeks to make a difference, so expect to be asked to come back for more treatments.

Even if the acupuncturist you choose accepts insurance, not all insurance providers cover acupuncture, so it’s a good idea to call your provider to find out if they’ll cover acupuncture treatments — and if so, how many.

If you have recurring sinus issues or are looking to try alternative treatments, acupuncture may be worth a shot. Just make sure you see a licensed acupuncturist and keep up with any prescribed sinus treatments.