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Ask an expert - body - skin conditions
Q: 12 months ago I suffered from a herpes simplex infection on my face, it was severe and my face was very swollen. It was treated with antibiotics. Since then I have had very very dry skin on my face and for the last few months a very dry scalp and now my hair is thinning. The lotions/shampoos have been prescribed but I am still suffering. I am now feeling very low, especially with the hair loss. I have just suddenly thought of acupuncture, which I have had successfully before for stressed shoulders, could it possibly help my dry skin?
A: Acupuncture treatment certainly wouldn't do any harm, but whether it might definitely do any good is more difficult to say. We have a factsheet on another variety of the herpes virus, herpes zoster or shingles
which gives some encouragement, but the evidence for the treatment of herpes simplex is a great deal thinner on the ground and dates back to nearly twenty years ago, at least what we could find.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, the name which one gives to a condition is less important than the symptoms which the patient has and the diagnostic signs which in tandem with them enable a practitioner to identify what is happening from a Chinese medicine perspective. The dryness which manifests on your face and head may be a local problem which results from the virus you have had, or it may be the local manifestation of a much more general systemic problem. The skill of the practitioner lies in being able to ensure that treatment is aimed not simply at eradicating the symptom but ensuring that it does not return.
The best advice we can give is that you seek a brief face to face consultation with a BAcC member local to you to see whether acupuncture may be a good option for you. We do need to note a slight caution, however, and that is that we think that if you have not done so you should make sure your conventional medical practitioner is aware of what is happening.
Q: My son is three years old and suffers severely with eczema. Do you treat children? I will try anything to help take this horrible condition away. He has suffered since three month old and it is so distressing .
A: Interestingly enough, the issue of treating children is very much a live one in the BAcC at the moment. Our members have always treated children, but over the years there has been an increasing recognition that children are not the same as little adults. Specialist courses have developed, and the BAcC has now recognised that there are expert levels of practice which might entitle a member to advertise themselves as an expert in treating children. The guidelines which will underpin this are not quite ready for publication, and so at this point we cannot give out the names of members who might meet these standards.
However, if you use google with your location, 'acupuncture' and 'children' we are fairly confident that you will quickly identify someone local to you who has undertaken specialist postgraduate training. That is not to say that the ordinary BAcC member cannot treat children, only that someone who makes the treatment of children a focus in their practice is likely to have greater experience about dealing with children and recognising the patterns of disease unique to children.
Using google will also very rapidly identify the two or three major course providers for paediatric acupuncture, and some of these provide drop down lists of practitioner by area.
It is also commonly held view in the profession that skin problems are particularly benefited by herbal medicine, and finding someone with this additional string to their bow might be an advantage. Our members are often very helpful at directing prospective patients to members within their area whom they know personally and trust as experts in their field, and if all else fails you could almost certainly get a good steer from a practitioner local to you.
A: There is a some research evidence about the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for some specific auto-immune diseases, but in each area there has to be a very considered response depending on the extent and quality of the information. It is impossible to make a blanket statement, therefore, about auto-immune diseases in general.
As far as vitiligo is concerned, there is very little evidence to suggest that acupuncture may help this condition. If you undertake an internet search you will undoubtedly find a small number of case studies which appear to suggest that acupuncture has done the trick, but for any condition you care to name there will someone somewhere for whom acupuncture has worked. The question is the degree of possibility which this creates, and in our experience there is not a great deal to support a recommendation.
That is not to say that acupuncture may not help. The translations between systems of medicine, especially eastern medicine with its entirely different underpinning based on a theory of energy or 'qi', are at best imprecise, and the Chinese had a very different understanding of what we would call the immune system. It is entirely possible that a practitioner might find weaknesses in the Chinese medicine version of an immune system which may have some correlation with, and positive effect on, the modern understanding of the immune system.
There is also an aspect of Chinese medicine which looks at the person as an integrated whole, and where there is internal disharmony this may also lead to a kind of 'energetic anarchy' which might see the body turn against itself in the manner described in the west as an auto-immune problem.
However, these would both be long shots, in our view, and we would be more inclined to refer someone on to a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner. CHM has a desered reputation for the treatment of skin conditions, and it may be worth your while talking to someone who is trained both in acupuncture and herbal medicine to get a better view of what may be done. Most of the RCHM members are also BAcC members, and most of the members of the ATCM practise both herbs and acupuncture. We are confident that a member of either will give you an honest face to face assessment of what may be possible.
Q: Can acupuncture help manage a skin condition on my forearms, topical treatments are not effective. Currently I am being kept awake by constant itching arms. I am unable to work due to flare ups and I become very distracted.
A: It is very difficult to answer your question without a great deal more information than we have here. There is no doubt that the evidence for the use of acupuncture treatment, while far from conclusive, is encouraging enough to warrant seeking advice from one of our members about whether they may be able to help you. Looking at the condition at first hand, and also making a few basic diagnostic soundings, should give you a better idea of whether treatment would be of benefit.
Our website has a number of sections under the 'research' area in factsheets such as this one:
which speak of a few trials for eczema and psoriasis. Our experience, however, is that most presentations of skin problems are unique, not because they manifest differently but because they have to be seen in the context of someone's overall health and patterns of energy, and this can make a huge difference to how a problem is treated. Each one of a number of people with the same western named condition might be diagnosed differently in Chinese medicine, and this would lead to individualised treatment, not simply the application of a formula treatment.
We also tend to recommend that people with skin problems consider the possibility of seeing a BAcC who also uses Chinese herbal medicine. Most members of the RCHM, one of the main Chinese herbal medicine associations, are also members of the BAcC, and members of the ATCM, another leading body for Chinese medicine, use both modalities. Our experience is that skin problems seem particularly well suited to Chinese herbal medicine, and while we are sure that acupuncture treatment may be able to have an effect (at least to some extent) the daily regimen of herbal preparations seems to suit these kinds of problem where sustained daily treatment seems to pay off.
Not all problems of this nature are amenable to treatment, though, and we recommend that you make sure that you have some form of face to face assessment before committing to treatment. Progress may be gradual and that may mean a considerable financial outlay. You need to ensure that you have clear and measurable outcomes and regular review periods if you decide to go ahead with treatment.
A: There are a number of studies of the use of acupuncture for treating Raynauds, such as:
which are also included in our factsheet
but as we conclude there, the evidence is not really conclusive enough to give any guarantee that acupuncture would be of benefit.
However, Chinese medicine looks at the functioning of the body in entirely different ways from orthodox medicine, and the theories, which are based on the flolw of energy called 'qi' in the body, can often provide treatment strategies where western medicine has nothing to offer. This is not to claim acupuncture will succeed where orthodox medicine failed; many conditions are just as difficult to treat in the eastern paradigm as they are are in the western one. The different understanding of human physiology and the different techniques often provide alternative approaches where western medicine has run out of options, and Raynauds Syndrome is a condition whose intractability means that sufferers are often left with few options.
In particular, an acupuncturist might focus on the parts of the system which are understood in Chinese medicine to be responsible for ensuring that energy is properly distributed to the extremities. Some of these Organs (capitalised to differentiate the concept from that of a western organ) have a number of wide ranging functions, and if one aspect is failing there should be evidence of poor performance in other functions which confirm what is going on. The taking the pulse at the wrist and looking at the tongue can also provide evidence of how different parts of the system function and inter-relate. After taking a look at how the whole system is functioning a practitioner will have a clear idea of whether there is a functional dusturbance in the whole system or local blockage, and treat accordingly. Whatever he or she finds will be unique to you; the very great strength of Chinese medicine is that it treats patients, not simply conditions, and finding out why you in particular have this problem is an essential part of trying to solve it.
Our best advice is to contact a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice face to face in whether they can help with the Raynauds as it manifests in your system. We are confident that they will give you an honest assessmenmt of whether acupuncture would be of benefit to you.