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Treating Hives with Acupuncture

By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

About 20 percent of people will experience urticaria or hives at some point in their lives. While standard treatment for hives is intended to relieve symptoms or acute cases with antihistamines or a corticosteroid drug, many people are turning to acupuncture and Oriental medicine to address underlying imbalances that cause this condition and to stop recurrent outbreaks once and for all.

What is Urticaria?

Hives (medically known as urticaria) are swollen red bumps, patches or welts on the skin that appear suddenly. Itching is the most common symptom associated with hives, although some people report that hives cause a stinging or burning sensation. Hives can occur anywhere on the body, including the hands, face, lips, tongue, throat or ears.

Hives are a sign that the whole body is experiencing a hyper-sensitivity or allergic reaction and an outbreak can occur due to a wide array of stimuli. While intolerance to certain foods, additives, intense emotions, sunlight exposure, and medications can all cause hives, in the majority of outbreaks (70-75 percent), the exact cause of hives remains unknown.

Hives can last for just a few minutes, a few hours, or they can persist for several weeks. Hives are rarely a medical emergency, but in some cases they can be accompanied by shock and difficulty breathing, which can be life threatening. Treatment of hives is directed toward relieving the unpleasant symptoms, primarily itching. Over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines are most often used. When antihistamines don't provide relief, oral corticosteroids may be prescribed. In addition to medications, applying cool compresses to the affected area and wearing light, loose-fitting clothing can help ease the discomfort of hives.

Urticaria and Oriental Medicine

Evidence that Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine have been used for skin disorders, such as hives, can be found in early medical literature dating back to 3AD. Medicinal plants and stone needles were utilized to relieve and cure discomforts of the external areas of the body.

In Oriental medicine, an outbreak of hives is described as wind invading the skin and the meridians, causing itching and swelling. When the eruptions are red, it is an indication that wind and heat are involved. When the eruptions are a pale pink or white, it is likely that the diagnosis will be wind-cold invading the skin. How the condition is diagnosed will determine what acupuncture points are used, what herbal medicines are prescribed and what lifestyle/dietary recommendations are made.

Treatments will be directed at addressing both the root (cause) and the branch (symptoms) of the condition by providing immediate relief from the itching and swelling (the branch) and addressing the underlying imbalances and triggers that are causing the condition (the root).

Common Acupuncture Points for Hives

While many different acupuncture points can be used depending on your specific symptoms and the state of your overall health, here are some acupuncture points that are commonly used to treat hives:

Spleen 10 (SP 10) is located two finger breadths above the top inner corner of the kneecap when the knee is slightly bent. It is on the bulge of the medial portion of muscle quadriceps femoris. This point is one of the major points on the body for skin conditions, including eczema and hives.

Large Intestine 11 (LI 11) can be found in the depression at the outer part of the elbow crease, between the elbow tendon and the bone. The point is best located when the arm is bent at 90 degrees with the palm facing the abdomen. This point helps clear expel wind and heat from the body and reduces inflammation.

Study: Acupuncture and Hives

A study conducted at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran examined the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic urticaria.

For this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 40 patients with chronic urticaria were divided into two equal groups. One group was treated with real acupuncture and the other with sham acupuncture for three weeks. The results showed that acupuncture was able to reduce both episode rate and episode duration of urticaria by as much as 25 percent when compared with the sham acupuncture throughout the duration of study.

After three weeks, the majority of the acupuncture-treated patients experienced partial remission of their symptoms. The researchers also noted that the greatest improvements were seen in the third week of treatments and commented that the efficacy of acupuncture seemed to increase with each treatment.

Source: Internet Journal of Dermatology, 2006, Volume 3.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be very effective at treating skin conditions. Treatments can provide quick relief for acute symptoms and can provide significant and lasting relief from recurrent or chronic skin conditions.  

If you suffer from a skin condition or would like to know how to optimize your skin health, find an Acupuncturist and learn more about how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you.

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