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Acupuncture Combats Itch of Atopic Dermatitis (AD)

December 4, 2012

A study conducted at the Department of Dermatology and Allergy in Germany in conjunction with Harvard researchers shows acupuncture as an effective complementary treatment for itch in atopic dermatitis.

Itch is a major symptom of a skin condition called atopic dermatitis (AD). Previous neuroimaging studies have shown that acupuncture modulates some of the same brain structures known to process itch sensation in both healthy adults and patients with AD.

In this double-blinded study, verum acupuncture was compared with oral histamine (cetirizine), placebo acupuncture, placebo cetirizine, and no-intervention control for the treatment of itch in atopic dermatitis patients. The study was a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial in which itch was induced on subjects’ forearms, using allergen solution, grass, birch pollen, or dander, and temperature was modulated for a total of 27 warm-cool cycles within 20 minutes.

The acupuncture points used were LI-11(QuChi, on the elbow at the midpoint of the line joining the lateral end of the transverse cubital crease and the lateral epicondyle of the humerus), HT-3 (ShaoHai, between the ulnar end of the cubital crease and medial epicondyle of the humerus), ST-34 (LiangQiu, 2 cm above the superior lateral border of the patella), and SP-10 (Xuehai, 2 cm above the superior medial border of the patella).

Both acupuncture and cetirizine significantly reduced type I hypersensitivity itch in patients with atopic dermatitis (AD) compared with the other treatment groups. While preventive acupuncture (that which is applied prior to induced itch) was similar in effect to cetirizine, abortive acupuncture (that which is applied during the induced itch) was significantly more effective than preventive acupuncture or cetirizine. These findings suggest that the introduction of acupuncture needles induce counter-irritation or distraction of the itch sensation. The study additionally used the D2 test of attention score, and found that cetirizine produced significant reduction of cognitive function in comparison with the placebo cetirizine.

These results suggest that acupuncture may be a useful complementary therapy to downregulate itch, urticaria, or eczema in atopic patients with fewer cognitive side-effects than cetirizine.

To read the complete PubMed article, click here.


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