Acupuncture may relieve itching in atopic eczema

An acupuncture session may relieve itching in those with an allergic skin condition known as atopic eczema.

Eczema is a general term for conditions marked by inflammation and dry, red, itchy patches on the skin. The most common form, atopic eczema, is seen in people with a predisposition to allergies, like hay fever or asthma. Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. According to traditional medicine, specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways that conduct energy, or qi (“chee”), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.

Researchers looked at the short-term effects of acupuncture on skin inflammation and itching in 30 people with atopic eczema in Germany under three different test conditions. In one, patients had their skin exposed to either pollen or dust-mite allergens, then received true, or point-specific, acupuncture – in which needles were placed in traditional acupuncture points that, according to
Chinese medicine, are related to itchy skin. In another situation, the allergen exposure was followed by placebo-point acupuncture, where the needles were inserted into skin areas not used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the third situation, patients received no treatment.

It was found that overall patients’ itchiness ratings were lower after they received true acupuncture, compared with both no treatment and placebo acupuncture. Then, when the researchers exposed patients’ skin to the allergens a second time, skin flare-ups tended to be less-severe following the point-specific acupuncture. As for itchiness, however, both the true and placebo therapies had similar benefits compared with no treatment.

Modern research has suggested that acupuncture may help ease pain by altering signals among nerve cells or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system. The researchers explained that pain and itchiness have similarities in their underlying mechanisms, so acupuncture’s effects on pain mechanisms may also account for the benefits seen in this study.

The findings show that in this experimental setting, acupuncture seems to ease the itch of atopic eczema. The study does not, however, answer the question of whether acupuncture as practiced in the real world would have similar benefits. However, more research is needed to see whether and why acupuncture might be helpful for people with eczema.

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