A device just coming to America from Australia claims to end allergy symptoms in as few as two treatments with the use of lasers. Can it stand up to rigorous scientific testing?
There are a lot of potential patients. It's estimated that one in five Americans suffers with allergies. Adult allergy sufferers spend more than $500 each per year on treatments, according to 2005 numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The report also showed that spending to fight allergies nearly doubled in the five years from 2000 to 2005 to $11.2 billion.
David Tucker was among life-long sufferers looking for a cure.
"It all stems back from when I was at Ohio State," Tucker said. "On Saturday, everybody would wake up and go to football games. Because that's when pollen season was, I'd spend time in the shower because I couldn't breathe."
Later in life, he was selling electrodes to the chiropractic industry in Florida and suffering hay fever and allergies to cats and dust.
Tucker said one chiropractor client turned him onto a device he'd seen in Australia.
"He'd been treated for his dairy allergy while on holiday. After 72 hours -- he hadn't drunk milk in 15 years -- he had a full glass of milk and it had no effect," Tucker said. "He set it up to have the equipment treat me for dust mites and, 48 hours later, I was fine. I'd always had to stay in a hotel at my mother-in-law's because of cats. Now I can have cats on my lap."
Tucker said the device works based on biofeedback. The allergy sufferer wears a sensing clip on his finger for testing, and the computer simulates the bio-frequency for 10,000 known allergens. As the body responds to those stimuli, the computer lists which substances are irritants.
"This digitized allergen actually matches the harmonic frequency of the actual allergen, making the body believe it is in contact with the real substance," Tucker said. "The body will react if it is allergic to the particular substance."
The assessment takes about 20 minutes and can cost up to $250.
Once the allergens are identified, a laser stimulates biomeridian points on the body -- the same points used in acupuncture and acupressure. Tucker said the idea is to strengthen organs to act properly the next time they encounter the allergen -- that is, to treat them as harmless.
Treatments are about $100, and Tucker said most people need two to 10 treatments to recondition the body's response. After that, they're done.
Tucker said his own suffering, combined with his business experience, led him to bring the device to American chiropractors.
He admits he doesn't know all the science behind the device. But, he said, he thinks back on all the money he spent on shots and meds, and all the time getting jabbed, and he wonders why he didn't have access to something so simple.
No Science Backs Device
So far, there is no science to prove the devices work, but Tucker claims a 70 percent positive response rate. He said he has patients filling out questionnaires so that researchers can begin scientific testing of the product.
After opening his own AllergiCare Relief Center in Tampa, Tucker franchised the equipment to 11 more U.S. locations and two in Canada. More are planned.
Experts Not Sure About Device
In response to Tucker's description of AllergiCare Relief Centers, a representative of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America wrote in an e-mail, "AAFA is not familiar with this treatment option and therefore cannot comment. There is currently no proven cure for allergies. The foundation strongly advises patients to 1) receive allergy testing from a board-certified allergist to find out what their triggers are and 2) contact us to receive free information on allergy management."
One board certified allergist, Dr. Alan Goldsobel, of Allergy and Asthma Associated in northern California, said he's troubled by the utter lack of science backing AllergiCare's claims.
"It comes across as, 'Traditional medicine doesn't want to allow these therapies,' but if homeopathy showed scientific proof, it wouldn't be alternative, it'd be mainstream," Goldsobel said.
Goldsobel called the AllergiCare business a media campaign with specious claims.
In contrast, what Goldsobel offers in his clinic is a three-pronged, traditional approach. The first step is to identify a sufferer's triggers and try to limit contact with the allergen. Then, medication may be prescribed. The final step is immunotherapy, which is still under rigorous study by scientists.
What Is Immunotherapy?
Administered by shot or tablet under the tongue, immunotherapy "involves giving a person increasingly higher doses of their allergen over time," according to a description from AAFA. "For reasons that we do not completely understand, the person gradually becomes less sensitive to that allergen."
It wasn't long ago immune therapy was itself considered highly controversial, according to an assessment of the newest sublingual immunotherapy published in Science Daily.
Past Use Of Meridians
As to AllergiCare's laser work on the body's meridians, a Hong Kong study written up in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that acupuncture done on children with allergies helped them "suffer fewer symptoms of sneezing, congestion and nasal drip."
Bellevue, Neb., chiropractor Dr. Tom Smith said he's offered acupuncture to allergy sufferers for years and has about a 70 percent positive response rate.
Smith said he can't speak to AllergiCare's specific claims, but he said his own experience with working on the body's meridian points has showed him that the theory works.
"I understand the medical doctors' concerns," Smith said. "Everything needs to be studied but, believe me, much of Western medicine has not been studied that rigorously as what they are demanding of Eastern medicine. Eastern healing has a long track record of being safe and effective."
So is AllergiCare quackery? Tucker said he's heard that charge.
"More and more people I speak to who go for allergy shots still have allergies," Tucker said. "If your alternative is shots or meds -- we may be quacks, but there's no side effects, so it doesn't hurt to give this a try. The most you'll be out is a couple hundred dollars. But if it works, you'll save money and not have to get allergy shots. Until you try it, how do you know?"