Richard G. Petty, MD

Acupuncture for Itch

Acupuncture has been used for every conceivable type of problem, and I have often been surprised how well it can help some skin problems. I was particularly impressed by its effectiveness in treating shingles, but I have sometimes also found that it can be very helpful in treating chronic itching.

So I was interested to see a study from Bochum in Germany in which 32 healthy volunteers had histamine applied to both forearms. Histamine is the chemical that normally causes a red wheal and a flare after being bitten by a mosquito or other bug.

Then, five minutes later, they had electroacupuncture of either the right or left ear. There are specific points on the ear that are said to be good for treating itching. They then re-tested the volunteers four weeks later, but this time without the acupuncture.

Acupuncture was found to significantly reduce – and in some cases completely prevent – the areas of itchy redness, but only on the same side that had the acupuncture. So if the right ear was treated, the itch and redness was less on the right side, but not of the left.

This is an impressive demonstration of something that we have seen in clinical practice, but until now have never proven.

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