Acupuncture to treat hay fever.
Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Acupuncture to treat hay fever.

After a long winter, you gotta love spring's green grasses, budding bushes, and leaf-sprouting trees – unless they turn you into a sneezing, wheezing, watery-eyed mess. It's a big-time bummer, but hay fever can quickly make March, April, and May miserable. And while antihistamines and other medicines may help ease the symptoms, they can also leave you in a groggy, doped-up haze.

If you're already dreading allergy season and know you'd love some relief without relying so heavily on drugs, you might want to give acupuncture a whirl. A study published in the 'Annals of Internal Medicine' in February found that hay fever sufferers who received 12 acupuncture treatments over eight weeks had fewer symptoms and needed less antihistamine meds than patients who didn't do the needles.

A traditional Chinese technique that involves a trained practitioner inserting superthin needles into strategic points on the body, acupuncture has been used for eons to treat all types of pain. Its effects on hay fever and other respiratory woes have been mixed in previous studies, but in this latest trial of 422 people, the treatment had a significant impact.

"Acupuncture addresses hay fever symptoms in a few ways," says Dr. Isaac Eliaz, an integrative physician and licensed acupuncturist in Sebastopol, California, who was not involved in this study. "In general, it has a balancing effect on the body as a whole. Additionally, acupuncture regulates abnormal histamine excretion and allergic responses, so basically, it helps reduce sensitivity and reactivity to allergens. Acupuncture can also decrease the expression of inflammatory proteins."

Eliaz says that receiving a series of treatments over a long stretch of time – much like what these study participants got – can even help reduce the recurrence of hay fever symptoms going forward. Another major perk? Stress relief. "Acupuncture helps regulate energy, so recipients often experience a deep sensation and feelings of well-being and relaxation," Eliaz says. "In our fast-paced modern world and with all of the issues we face as a society, reducing stress is critical for health."