If you suffer from allergies or sinus issues, you’ve likely already tried nasal sprays, medications or other pharmacological treatments in hope of relieving your symptoms. While these treatments work for some people, they can also come with unwanted side effects and a hefty price tag. Thankfully there is another option: acupuncture. Acupuncture is slowly growing in popularity as a sinus and allergy treatment. It’s easy to see why, as treatments are relaxing, safe, minimally invasive and drug free! Read on to learn more about how acupuncture can help you find relief from your sinus issues.

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 recurring sinus issues acupuncture may help.

How does it work?

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.

Which points target the sinuses?

There are hundreds of acupuncture points across your body, 10 of which are commonly used to treat sinus issues or allergic rhinitis. During your first acupuncture session at Evolve, Dr. Peter Wood, Dr. TCM, R.Ac. 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.

What does the research say?

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.

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.

Is it safe to try?

When performed by a trained and experienced acupuncturist, acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment option. But if acupuncture isn’t performed correctly or needles aren’t sterile, you may be at risk for serious side effects. Registered acupuncturists in the Canada must use disposable needles, so receiving acupuncture from a registered 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:

  • 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

How can I try acupuncture?

If you’ve decided to give acupuncture a try, it’s essential to choose a qualified acupuncturist. In Canada the Collage of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists (CTCMA) offers licensing programs and examinations, but specific licensing requirements vary by province.

When looking for an acupuncturist, keep in mind that a registered 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.

Registered 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 CTCMA acupuncturist registry.

Asking questions such as whether they’ve treated sinus issues with acupuncture before, can be helpful when deciding if an acupuncture practitioner is right for you. 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.

If you have recurring sinus issues and are looking to try alternative treatments, acupuncture may be right for you. To learn more about how acupuncture can help you manage your sinus issues, or to book an appointment with Dr. Peter Wood Dr. TCM, R.Ac. email us at info@evolvevancouver.ca.