Itch is the major symptom of atopic dermatitis (AD). Acupuncture has been shown to exhibit a significant effect on experimental itch in AD. Our study evaluated acupuncture and antihistamine itch therapy (cetirizine) on type I hypersensitivity itch and skin reaction in AD using a patient and examiner-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial.
Allergen-induced itch was evaluated in 20 patients with AD after several interventions in separate sessions: preventive (preceding) and abortive (concurrent) verum acupuncture (VAp and VAa), cetirizine (10 mg, VC), corresponding placebo interventions (preventive, PAp, and abortive, PAa, placebo acupuncture; placebo cetirizine pill, PC) and a no-intervention control (NI). Itch was induced on the forearm and temperature modulated over 20 min, using our validated model. Outcome parameters included itch intensity, wheal and flare size and the D2 attention test.
Mean itch intensity (SE: 0.31 each) was significantly lower following VAa (31.9) compared with all other groups (PAa: 36.5; VC: 36.8; VAp: 37.6; PC: 39.8; PAp: 39.9; NI: 45.7; P < 0.05). There was no significant difference between VAp and VC (P > 0.1), although both therapies were significantly superior to their respective placebo interventions (P < 0.05). Flare size following VAp was significantly smaller (P = 0.034) than that following PAp. D2 attention test score was significantly lower following VC compared with all other groups (P < 0.001).
Both VA and cetirizine significantly reduced type I hypersensitivity itch in patients with AD, compared with both placebo and NI. Timing of acupuncture application was important, as VAa had the most significant effect on itch, potentially because of counter-irritation and/or distraction. Itch reduction following cetirizine coincided with reduced attention.