Acupuncture was developed by traditional Chinese medical practitioners to treat a wide range of health problems. Once only used in Eastern cultures, it has gradually gained acceptance by medical professionals in the West. Acupuncture is now commonly used to treat everything from pain, stress, and nausea. Lesser-known uses, such as the treatment of allergies, are also gaining popularity.

Acupuncture is an ancient practice that started in what is now China. It’s based on the belief that life energy, called qi, pronounced “chee,” flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. By inserting thin needles at specific points, called “acupuncture points,” skilled practitioners seek to restore the flow of energy to eliminate pain and other ailments.

Western medicine doesn’t accept the traditional explanation of acupuncture’s mechanism of action. No evidence that meridians exist has ever been documented by modern science, but despite ongoing questions regarding how it works, science has shown that at least in some instances, it does work. Pain relief is one example. Controlled clinical trials have shown that acupuncture can relieve pain, sometimes better than drugs, in conditions such as chronic lower back pain, migraines, neck pain, and post-operative pain.

What about using acupuncture for the treatment of allergies and eczema? Preliminary research indicates that acupuncture may help allergy and eczema symptoms.

Researchers at the University Medical Center in Berlin conducted a large, multi-center study of the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. The study divided 422 people into three groups for two months: one group received acupuncture treatment, the second received “fake” acupuncture, with needles placed in random, meaningless spots on their bodies, and the third group only took antihistamines. At the end of the study, the group that received acupuncture therapy reported greater relief from symptoms than the other two groups.

However, the group receiving the fake acupuncture treatment also reported relief of their symptoms, though not as much as the group receiving acupuncture. Furthermore, four months later, as a follow-up, the difference between the effectiveness of the real and fake acupuncture treatment groups was less pronounced. This suggests a placebo effect may have taken place with the people receiving acupuncture, in anticipation of its beneficial effects.

In another study, researchers were unable to support or disprove the use of acupuncture as treatment for hay fever.

Other studies have looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is an itchy rash that can be caused by irritants like soap or lotions. They found that acupuncture significantly reduced itchiness in some patients. They noted that preventative acupuncture did not work as well as concurrent acupuncture.

In a review of published trials, researchers concluded that there is some evidence to support the claim that acupuncture is beneficial and cost-effective as an additional treatment for seasonal allergic rhinitis. However, at this time, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that acupuncture is effective as a stand-alone treatment. This conclusion echoes what other scientists who have previously reviewed the existing evidence have determined. So while the study results are promising, present evidence is mixed, at best. More studies are also needed to evaluate acupuncture as a treatment of eczema.

If you’re interested in acupuncture therapy, start by talking to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a center or practitioner.