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Hay fever treatment in general practice: a randomised controlled trial comparing standardised Western acupuncture with Sham acupuncture
  1. L Williamson, Senior Registrar in Rheumatology1,
  2. P Yudkin, Medical Statistician2,
  3. R Livingstone, Principal in General Practice3,
  4. K Prasad, Principal in General Practice4,
  5. A Fuller, Research Officer5,
  6. M Lawrence6
  1. 1
    Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford
  2. 2
    Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford
  3. 3
    The Little Surgery, 21 St Mary's St, Stamford
  4. 4
    Westwood Clinic, Wichen Way, Peterborough
  5. 5
    Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford
  6. 6
    University Lecturer in General Practice, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford
  1. 17, Coxwell Road, Faringdon, Oxford (UK) SN7 7EB


The effect of standardised, Western acupuncture on hay fever symptoms was investigated in a randomised, controlled, single-blind trial in comparison with “sham” acupuncture. Three general practices, in Oxfordshire (rural), Lincolnshire (semi-rural), and Peterborough (urban), recruited 102 patients aged 16 or over with long-standing, moderate or severe hay fever symptoms that had required continuous therapy for at least one month of the year for three or more consecutive years.

The patients were asked to keep a diary to record: the amount of medication used daily; a daily symptom score (using a ten-point scale), from which was derived a weekly remission of symptoms score; and their assessment of the effect of acupuncture on the hay fever symptoms. Symptom scores and use of medication were similar in the two groups. In the four-week period following each patient's first treatment, remission of symptoms was reported by 39.0% in the active treatment group and 45.2% in the sham group; mean weekly symptom scores were 18.4 and 17.6 respectively; and mean units of medication used were 4.1 and 5.0 respectively. Sixteen out of 43 patients in the active treatment group and 14 out of 43 in the sham group felt that the acupuncture had had an excellent or very good effect on their hay fever. The treatments were simple, safe, reproducible and perceived as equally effective. Whether this represented an acupuncture effect, a placebo effect, or natural variation in a fluctuating condition, is not clear.

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