Sinusitis (or rhino-sinusitis) is an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the para-nasal
sinuses. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 million American
adults were diagnosed with the disease in 2010 alone. Sinusitis can be caused by infections, allergies,
structural abnormalities like a deviated septum, or nasal polyps. When it strikes, the patient may suffer
constant nasal congestion. In chronic cases, it can adversely affect the patients’ quality of life.
Many chronic cases of sinusitis involves allergies, which usually cannot be prevented because nasal
allergens in the environment tend to be out of the patient’s control. For instance, a patient allergic
to pollen cannot stay indoors every day for the entire pollen season. Neither can a patient allergic to
temperature changes do anything about the weather.
When nasal allergies act up, the patient can use a decongestant spray, but it may not provide enough
relief. The patient’s nasal passages may be too swollen for the decongestant to clear, and long-term use
of the spray may even cause rebound sinusitis.
If the patient has a deviated septum, some doctors may suggest surgery. It is true that the narrower
nasal passage of the two gets congested more easily, so correcting the septum is likely to reduce the
frequency of congestion on that side. However, if the patient has nasal allergies, exposure to allergens
will still cause congestion despite the widening of the nasal passage. Therefore, surgery cannot
completely cure allergies-related sinusitis. In fact, some people with a deviated septum don’t have
chronic sinusitis. That means the structural problem is a smaller factor than allergies.
Since all allergies come from an overactive immune system, appeasing the immune system will
definitely help relieve nasal allergies, and that’s something acupuncture can do. Acupuncture works by
inserting extremely thin needles to stimulate certain anatomical locations called “acupoints,” which are
connected with problem areas through meridians, namely the paths qi (which can be roughly translated
as energy of life) takes to travel through the body. In Chinese medicinal theories, as long as qi flows
smoothly all over the body, all its systems will function properly. From this point of view, when the
immune system overreacts, qi must be blocked somewhere. Acupuncture can unblock the stagnated qi
and put all the bodily functions that have gone awry back on track.
In the United States, acupuncture is more recognized for its effectiveness in pain relief than for treating
other health problems. However, a pilot study has been conducted at the University of California,
Los Angeles, to examine how acupuncture could help patients who did not respond well to standard
treatment of Western medicine.
Dr. Jeffrey Suh, an assistant professor of rhinology and skull base surgery, and his team worked with
11 patients, eight men and three women, between the ages of 32 and 70. None of them had undergone
surgery in the three months before the study began. Neither had they received acupuncture in the two
During the study, the patients continued their previous treatments but also went through eight weekly
20-minute sessions of acupuncture and acupressure massage. They were also taught how to self-
administer acupressure at home. Lifestyle changes were advised as well.
Two months later, all the patients were found to have lower frequency of a runny nose, reduced
sneezing, and less tendency to blow their noses. Their facial pain and pressure were also alleviated.
The findings of the study were published in the March 2012 issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology.
In China, where acupuncture originated, a study titled “Treatment of 85 Cases with Chronic Rhinitis by
Acupuncture” was published in 2010. The study found 61 of the 85 patients fully recovered, 21 with
marked improvement, and three with no effect.
The two studies validated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating chronic sinusitis. Although
neither of them resulted in a 100 percent success rate, they proved acupuncture to be more helpful to
chronic sinusitis patients than Western medicine.
While many acupuncturists focus on acupoints near the nose to treat chronic sinusitis, Dr. Ching Chi,
who practices acupuncture in Sunnyvale, California, takes a more holistic approach. She said, “People
with chronic sinusitis often have other kinds of allergies. So, I would treat the body as a whole rather
than separate parts.”
Dr. Chi usually doesn’t insert needles anywhere near the nose to treat sinusitis. She knows certain acu-
points in the scalp as well as in the back of the neck that work even more effectively. She said, “Some
acupoints can be used to treat different illnesses at the same time. All the body parts are connected, so
I mostly focus on improving the patient’s overall health. Once the patient becomes essentially stronger,
little problems here or there will naturally go away.”
According to Dr. Chi, one of her patients used to suffer nasal congestion every October for being
allergic to sudden drops of temperature, but since Dr. Chi began treating the patient in September for
another health problem, the patient’s chronic sinusitis did not act up that October.
“Acupuncture restores the patient’s health from within, so the patient will be less affected by the same
allergens that will always be in the environment, ” said Dr. Chi. “That’s what makes it a superior
treatment method for allergies-related chronic sinusitis.”
The information provided in this article is designed to help readers better
understand the nature of chronic sinusitis and the solutions available. None of
the information should be construed as or is intended to be used for medical
diagnosis or treatment.
Written by Crystal Tai
Edited by Ching Chi