Atopic eczema causes profound itching. Often the itching is the first sign of the condition and scratching leads to the inflammation.
A recent research report examined acupuncture treatment of itch in atopic dermatitis (1). This study was quite sophisticated. They compared acupuncture versus antihistamine treatment to reduce itching. They also compared acupuncture and antihistamine to an acupuncture and an antihistamine placebo. Finally, they looked at if acupuncture was better for preventing the itch or treating the active itching.
The acupuncture was stronger than the antihistamine in its ability to reduce itching. In fact, the acupuncture was the only clinically relevant reduction in the itch. While the antihistamine also reduced itch, it was not as strong as the acupuncture. Also, acupuncture did not have any cognitive adverse effects which were induced by the antihistamine.
Both the antihistamine and the acupuncture were stronger than their placebos.
Interestingly, acupuncture performed before the itching was induced was not as effective as acupuncture done after the patients were itching. So it is important to think about the timing when treating the itch.
How does acupuncture reduce itch?
The authors theorized that acupuncture reduction of itch may act through the similar pathways as pain reduction including the release of endogenous opioids and neurological pathways. Acupuncture may also reduce inflammation which is a significant in atopic eczema.
1. Pfab F, Kirchner MT, Huss-Marp J, et.al. . Acupuncture compared with oral antihistamine for type I hypersensitivity itch and skin response in adults with atopic dermatitis: a patient- and examiner-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Allergy. 2012 Apr;67(4):566-73.