Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture For COVID-19 Loss Of Smell And Taste

covid smell

Acupuncture demonstrates clinical efficacy for postviral recovery from the loss of the sense of smell. COVID-19 (coronavirus) patients often experience diminished olfaction, with a median return of the senses of taste and smell within eight days. However, long-term impacts on both gustation (tasting) and olfaction have been reported in COVID-19 cases. Research on acupuncture’s ability to benefit the restoration of olfaction indicates that it is a potentially effective treatment modality for the relief of anosmia, dysosmia, parosmia, hyposmia, dysgeusia, and ageusia in postviral recovery.

COVID-19 presents challenges because the completion of most current research is pending. Looking at prior investigations, a controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery finds acupuncture effective for restoring olfaction in patients with dysosmia (sense of smell dysfunction) due to viral infections. [1] Notably, patients that recovered with the use of acupuncture were non-responders to conventional pharmacologic therapy. The results indicate that additional studies are warranted.

The study employed the use of an expert acupuncturist. Acupuncture treatments lasted for 30 minutes and the acupuncture points used were the following:

  • GV16 (Fengfu)
  • GV20 (Baihui)
  • LI20 (Yingxiang)
  • LU7 (Lieque)
  • LU9 (Taiyuang)
  • ST36 (Zusanli)
  • KD3 (Taixi)

All patients received several acupuncture treatments over a 10 week period. A statistical analysis reveals a significant improvement in the patients receiving acupuncture versus the control group. At HealthCMi, we would like to see inclusion of GV24 (Shenting) included in future acupoint selections in research, given the important of scalp acupuncture for neurologic conditions impacting olfaction and the brain.

In another investigation of postviral olfactory dysfunction, traditional Chinese acupuncture “significantly improved olfactory function outcomes in patients who underwent acupuncture compared with the observation group.” [2] Results were confirmed using the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT). The treatment process was supervised by a professor of acupuncture with over 50 years of experience. Acupuncture points used in the investigation included LI20 (Yingxiang) and M-HN-14 (Bitong).

It will take time for the new wave of research to confirm the aforementioned results. We do know, however; that acupuncture has been proven effective in preventing damage to cells and glands of the head and neck. For example, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston) and Fudan University Cancer Center (Shanghai) researchers conclude that acupuncture “resulted in significantly fewer and less severe RIX [radiation-induced xerostomia] symptoms 1 year after treatment vs SCC [standard care control].” [3] The blinded investigation of acupuncture’s effects on head and neck cancer patients receiving radiation therapy demonstrates groundbreaking results.

Salivary glands may be permanently damaged by radiation therapy and there is a high-incidence of resultant RIX, with complications including difficult or painful swallowing, impairment of the sense of taste (dysgeusia), dental problems, insomnia, and difficulty speaking.

Outcome measures were based on a questionnaire, salivary flow, incidence of xerostomia, salivary contents, and quality of life scores. One year after completion of all acupuncture treatments, the acupuncture group maintained significantly higher successful patient outcome rates over standard care and sham-control groups. All acupuncture treatments were provided by licensed acupuncturists trained at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The acupuncture points used were the following:

  • CV24
  • LU7
  • KD6
  • Auricular: Shenmen, Point Zero, Salivary Gland 2 Prime, Larynx

Body-style acupuncture needles were 0.25 mm × 40 mm and auricular acupuncture needles were 0.16 mm × 15 mm. Acupuncture treatments were provided at a rate of 3 times per week for the duration of the 6–7 week radiation treatment period. The researchers conclude that acupuncture “should be considered for the prevention of radiation-induced xerostomia.” [4]

COVID-19 reporting is now citing the term long-haulers in reference to patients with lasting adverse effects associated with the illness. A diminished sense of taste, smell, and chronic fatigue are frequently cited. This underscores the need for effective treatments for COVID-19 patients.

Preliminary results in modern research for acupuncture will be reviewed by the HealthCMi news department as the research is completed. Regarding traditional Chinese herbal medicine, there are already several studies that have been completed. In a study of 662 patients, Chinese herbal medicine significantly reduced COVID-19 mortality rates. [5]

In another investigation of COVID-19 patients with pneumonia, researchers conclude that the addition of Chinese medicine to conventional care improves clinical efficacy. The researchers note that Chinese medicine “significantly increased viral nucleic acid negative conversion rate.” They add that Chinese medicine “prominently reduced pulmonary inflammation,” “improved host immune function,” and Chinese medicine “exhibited superior performance” for improving the “clinical effective rate, viral nucleic acid negative conversion rate, remission rate of pulmonary inflammation, and biochemical markers.” [6]

Laboratory results indicate that Chinese herbal medicine is effective. Research demonstrates that the Chinese herbal patent medicine Lianhua Qingwen Capsules decreases the number of virus particles in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells. Transmission electron microscopy confirms that virus particles at cell membrane surfaces, in cytoplasm, and in plasma vesicles decreases in cells treated with Lianhua Qingwen Capsules. [7] In a clinical trial, researchers conclude that Lianhua Qingwen Capsules improve the recovery rate from COVID-19 symptoms, shortens the time from initial symptoms to recovery, and improves morphological recovery from chest radiologic abnormalities. [8]


[1] Vent, Julia, Djin-Wue Wang, and Michael Damm. "Effects of traditional Chinese acupuncture in post-viral olfactory dysfunction." Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery 142, no. 4 (2010): 505-509.
[2] Dai, Qi, Zhihui Pang, and Hongmeng Yu. "Recovery of olfactory function in postviral olfactory dysfunction patients after acupuncture treatment." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016 (2016).
[3] Garcia, M.K., Meng, Z., Rosenthal, D.I., Shen, Y., Chambers, M., Yang, P., Wei, Q., Hu, C., Wu, C., Bei, W. and Prinsloo, S., 2019. Effect of True and Sham Acupuncture on Radiation-Induced Xerostomia Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 2(12), pp.e1916910-e1916910.
[4] Garcia, M.K., Meng, Z., Rosenthal, D.I., Shen, Y., Chambers, M., Yang, P., Wei, Q., Hu, C., Wu, C., Bei, W. and Prinsloo, S., 2019. Effect of True and Sham Acupuncture on Radiation-Induced Xerostomia Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 2(12), pp.e1916910-e1916910.
[5] Chen, Guohua, Wen Su, Jiayao Yang, Dan Luo, Ping Xia, Wen Jia, Xiuyang Li et al. "Chinese herbal medicine reduces mortality in patients with severe and critical Coronavirus disease 2019: a retrospective cohort study." Frontiers of medicine (2020): 1-8.
[6] Sun, Chun-Yang, Ya-Lei Sun, and Xin-Min Li. "The role of Chinese medicine in COVID-19 pneumonia: A systematic review and meta-analysis." The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (2020).
[7] Runfeng, Li, Hou Yunlong, Huang Jicheng, Pan Weiqi, Ma Qinhai, Shi Yongxia, Li Chufang et al. "Lianhuaqingwen exerts anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity against novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)." Pharmacological research (2020): 104761.
[8] Hu, Ke, Wei-jie Guan, Ying Bi, Wei Zhang, Lanjuan Li, Boli Zhang, Qingquan Liu et al. "Efficacy and Safety of Lianhuaqingwen Capsules, a repurposed Chinese Herb, in Patients with Coronavirus disease 2019: A multicenter, prospective, randomized controlled trial." Phytomedicine (2020): 153242.


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