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Ask the Expert
Ask an expert - body - skin conditions
A: We have a factsheet on our website
which outlines some of the research evidence for the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles) and makes encouraging noises.
However, from a Chinese medicine perspective, shingles is described in terms of being an 'external invasion of wind and heat', and there are protocols which are used for its treatment when it first appears. As in the equivalent western treatment, the taking of acyclovir, there is a strong correlation between early treatment and reduction in the severity of the symptoms. In Chinese medicine, there are many case studies which describe how rapid intervention to expel the pathogens seems to make a considerable difference.
Once the condition is entrenched, though, it becomes more difficult to shift, whichever system of medicine is used, and the best that one can hope for from acupuncture treatment is usually only the reduction in severity of the symptoms.
A great deal depends on where the rashes have appeared. Those of the face and head can be particularly uncomfortable, and many patients are happy to accept whatever relief they can get. We always counsel caution in cases like this, because relief can be transient, and prolonged treatment can become very expensive. If someone values the relief they get, whatever the expense, we like to ensure that they do so as a conscious choice and not simply rack up a large bill over time through habit. Our experience is that patients like to be in charge of this kind of process and can become upset if they aren't involved in regular reviews of progress and outcome.
Chinese medicine works from an entirely different theoretical basis which can often make sense of a symptom for which there is no obvious classification in conventional medicine. In fact, there are occasions where problems which people would not take to a GP fall within an understanding of possible pathologies from a Chinese medicine perspective.
However, you do need to at least check with your GP whether there is anything going on with your system as a whole. Although it would be rare for your symptom to be a sign of a serious underlying illness, there are a small number of conditions where excessive redness of the face together with a sensation of heat might be pointing to a condition which requires conventional treatment.
After that it would be worth your while to seek the advice of a BAcC member local to you. There may be other indicators in the way that your system is functioning which point to more general patterns of imbalance, or there may be local blockages in the flow of energy which are causing the symptoms to manifest - a great deal depends on exactly where the symptom appears, and when.
We would advise you to be careful, however. BAcC members are particularly careful not to embark on long sequences of treatment for conditions like this, where changes may or may not occur, and regularly review what they do to ensure that the patient retains control of the process. We have heard of less scrupulous practitioners, though, and anyone who guarantees success or asks for a commitment to ten sessions is to be treated with caution.
There is not a great deal of evidence that acupuncture has been used successfully for treating this condition. This becomes very clear when you undertake any searches for evidence. There is a single paper for the use of acupuncture and hypnotherapy ('hypnopuncture')
which is cited over and over again without any further additions, a certain sign that there is no other evidence. We are sure that there are probably a large number of trials which have been undertaken in China, but the great majority of these have not been translated and are often regarded in the West as methodologically flawed.
However, skin diseases are as old as mankind, and the systems of Chinese medicine do have ways of interpreting the signs and symptoms of diseases like prurigo within its framework. These often use terms like 'invasions' of 'heat', 'wind' or 'damp' which sound alien to the western ear but describe the effects of climate (as experienced by a largely agrarian population) on the flow of energy, called 'qi', especially where this disrupted the flow, rhythm and balance near the skin surface. Everyone is aware of the short term effects of exposure to extremes of climate, and from a Chinese medicine perspective, whether this is the primary cause of a problem, or whether there is an underlying weakness which makes particular people vulnerable, the skill of the practitioner lies in assessing the overall balance as well as the presenting symptoms, and attempting to restore balance.
The best advice that we can give you is that you visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of the problem. Crucial to this assessment will be whether the problem is local or widespread. In broad terms, the more localised, the more treatment options there are. We would also recommend that you might want to see advice from someone who also does Chinese herbal medicine. The majority of the members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC members. We say this because herbal medicine has developed a very good reputation over the years for treating skin conditions, the daily dose of herbs helping to maintain a treatment momentum. It may be that a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine may prove a more potent force in helping your problem, but to what extent would depend on a more thorough assessment than we can give here.
You may find a number of American sites such as this one
Please click here
which give some very clear and unequivocal advice about the treatment of hair loss. You may also have seen some of the high street shops with lurid photos of 'before' and 'after' treatment.
The reality is that there is very little research evidence to suggest that acupuncture can reverse hair loss if that is a stand-alone problem. This is becoming an increasing problem for men especially in modern times, and there are a number of theories, from stress to electro-magnetic radiation to increases in background hormone levels in drinking water, as to why this might be. However, there is no conclusive evidence for any of these, and no evidence that acupuncture can treat hair loss as a specific symptom.
However, hair loss can be associated with other conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndroe (PCOS) in women and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in both sexes, and if this is the case, there are approaches in both conventional and Chinese medicine which may prove beneficial. Clearly the Chinese medicine ones will be looking at the symptom in the context of other symptoms which someone may have, and also in the context of understanding the body as a system of energy, or 'qi', whose flow, rhythms and balance have been disturbed. There are a number of functional elements understood from this perspective which contribute to the health and quantity of the hair, as well as its 'vitality', and if a diagnosis can make sense of the hair loss within this wider context, then there is some sense that acupuncture treatment may help.
However, progress, even if good, is likely to be slow, and there are, sad to say, professionals (not BAcC members, we are pleased to note) who make the kinds of claims for hair growth and recovery which we do not believe are underpinned by evidence, either research or anecdotal, so we recommend great caution.
Q: I am not sure if acupuncture would have any chance of helping with this, but I suffer from bad acne around my chin area - and I'm pretty sure this is related to hormones. I am 29 years of age, and female.
A: There is some evidence that acupuncture can help acne, as out factsheet shows:
Please click here
However, we are interested that you think there is a hormonal connection because in someone your age acne is very often a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome, for which there is some, if conflicting, evidence about the value of acupuncture treatment, as our factsheet shows
Please click here
There is every reason to seek further conventional medical assessment to establish whether this is the case, because it can add to the understanding of the condition from a Chinese medicine perspective. Any accumulations of fluid in the body have significance from a Chinese point of view, and if there are other linked symptoms this will suggest possibilities for treatment.
If the problem is simply a local one, we believe that there may be some value in seeking acupuncture treatment, but we would also probbaly recommend that a prospective patient visit someone who is also trained in Chinese herbal medicine. Using herbal medicines can often offer daily treatment of a problem which in the case of skin problems seems to provide a better chance of 'breaking through' the pattern. Mist members of the RCHM are also members of the BAcC, so finding someone who uses acupuncture and herbs is not difficult.
However, any of the BAcC members local to you will be able to offer you honest advice and a brief face to face assessment of your problem to make a more informed recommendation than we can make remotely.