By Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

We see a substantial amount of patients at BCA that, with acupuncture, receive considerable relief of some or all of the following uncomfortable symptoms of rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal cavity) and/or sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal cavity):

▪ general swelling of the nasal or sinus cavity
▪ mucus and fluid retention in the sinuses
▪ post-nasal drip
▪ headaches
▪ ear, face, and/or jaw pain

About acupuncture and sinusitis:

Rhinitis and sinusitis can be caused by a number of factors, but the most frequent cases stem from allergies or viral infections. When subsequent swelling and congestion occurs within the sinus cavity, the pressure exerted in the facial region not only leads to difficulty in breathing and smelling, but can cause frontal headaches and referred tooth or jaw pain. Many of our regular patients come in with acute symptoms due to allergies or a common cold, but we also see many new faces in clinic with chief complaints of the above symptoms that have persisted months past the initial trigger and are trying acupuncture for the first time as a last ditch effort to find some relief for their residual discomfort.

After treatment

With acupuncture in both acute and chronic cases, we typically see patients leave with decreased pain/pressure, and an increased ability to breathe and smell. In cases with mucus or fluid blockage the sinuses will often open and begin draining soon after the needles are in place. As someone who suffers from chronic rhinosinusitis (say THAT ten times in a row), I personally use acupuncture successfully to keep the passages open and minimize the beating they take every year during allergy season.

Studies Prove Acupuncture for Sinus Issues Effective

A recent pilot study conducted by Dr. Jeffry Suh, an otolaryngologist and assistant professor of rhinology and skull-based surgery at UCLA, studied 11 men and women who, in conjunction with their current conventional treatment, received 2 months of acupuncture for chronic sinusitis. All patients experienced some form of relief, and the results showed statistically significant trends toward improvement with acupuncture. A large scale study needs to be conducted, but these preliminary results are promising. A double-blind, randomized study conducted in China between 2001 and 2002 compared active acupuncture with sham acupuncture in the treatment of persistent allergic rhinitis among 85 children. The conclusion of the study was that “active acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture in decreasing the symptom scores for persistent allergic rhinitis and increasing the symptom-free days.”

What to expect during treatment:

The practitioner will insert needles into various locations on the body based on the patient’s individual symptom complaints and overall physical presentation. We will often use points on the hands and feet for headaches and/or pain and pressure in the face. We may use points on the face or behind the ear to help relieve mucus or fluid congestion and lack of proper drainage. When the needles are inserted there is often a dull, aching sensation or feeling of electricity that usually diminishes after a few seconds.

Patients then typically feel relaxed, with symptoms such as pressure and pain receding, and congested sinuses opening and draining (don’t worry, we’ll set you up with tissues!). Needles are retained for around 45 minutes, and some patients with be prescribed herbs to be taken at home. It is important for most patients, particularly those with chronic conditions, to initially get frequent treatments in order to get the offending symptoms under control.