A session of acupuncture may quell itching in people who suffer from atopic eczema, which is an allergic skin condition.
Eczema is actually a general term for a skin condition that’s marked by inflammation and itchy, red, dry patches on the skin. Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema and occurs in people who are predisposed to asthma, hay fever, and other forms of allergies. Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that has been used for more than 3,000 years to combat a wide range of illnesses. In Chinese medicine theory, certain acupuncture points on the skin are associated with internal channels in the body that conduct vital energy known as qi or chi. Inserting a needle into a specific acupuncture point promotes the healthy circulation of chi.
German scientists have observed acupuncture’s short-term effects on skin itch and inflammation in 35 participants who were all suffering from atopic eczema under three different test conditions. One test condition had the patients’ skins exposed to either dust-mite or pollen allergens and then were treated with point-specific or real acupuncture. This is a type of acupuncture in which needles are inserted in traditional acupoints that, based on Chinese medicine, are associated with itchy skin. The 2nd test condition involved allergen exposure that was treated with placebo-point acupuncture. In this type of acupuncture, the needles were stuck into certain acupoints that’s not traditionally used in Chinese medicine. No treatment was given to patients on the 3rd test condition.
Results showed that the patients’ overall itchiness ratings was reduced after being treated with real acupuncture, compared to both placebo acupuncture and no treatment. Then, the researchers once again exposed the subjects’ skin to the allergens, following point-specific acupuncture treatment, the skin flare-ups of the patients tended to be less-severe. However, with regards to itching, both placebo and real acupuncture treatments showed similar results compared with no treatment.
Recent medical studies have suggested that acupuncture can help reduce pain by affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system or modifying signals among nerve cells. The researchers state that itchiness and pain have similarities in their underlying mechanisms. These pain mechanisms can be affected by acupuncture which may also account for the benefits revealed in this study.
The results reveal that acupuncture seems to allay the itch of atopic eczema. However, the study does not answer the question of whether acupuncture as practiced in the real world would show the same results. More research is recommended to determine why and whether acupuncture can be of help for sufferers of eczema.
Emily Farish is a licensed acupuncturist in Spokane, WA and the founder of Emily Farish Acupuncture.