As many of you either recall from reading these pages, or from knowing me, I suffer from allergies. I medicate using OTC drugs and I’ve sought treatment on multiple occasions. Most recently, I was disappointed at the small amount of coverage my medical insurer gave for allergy treatments, which indicates that it places a low priority on them — and with the minimal treatment the allergist reccomended; he didn’t want to put me on a routine of allergy-cure shots and advised me to take some drugs when the symptoms got bad. Oh, really, doc? Gee, I couldn’t have figured that out on my own, thanks!
Allergies can be serious stuff; anaphylaxis can kill. I had one of those episodes where I feel like my windpipe is contracting on me last night right when I came home (where I’ve been having bad reactions over the past few days, and I don’t know why) last night, which went away after a little bit of wheezing. So this morning I thought to read about what else I might do other than keep on popping Claritin every morning — which is about the only advice I got from the allergist last time, and for that I didn’t need to see anyone.
Allergies are in the news again, too. The Obama family is looking to take in a dog to be their pet, which is good, because every First Family needs a dog. This is serious business George W. Bush has a black Irish Setters named Miss Beazley and Barney; his dad, George H.W. Bush the Older and Wiser, famously had a Springer Spaniel named Millie. Bill Clinton had Buddy, a chocolate Labrador Retriever. Ronald Reagan had Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Lucky, a Sheepdog. And the list goes on; the last President to not have a dog was Carter (Amy Carter was given a dog named Grits by her teacher, but the Carters gave Grits back, opting instead to only have a cat). But Malia Obama, age ten, is apparently allergic to dogs, so they need to find one that she won’t be reactive to. And Barack promised his girls that they could take a puppy to the White House with them.
So how fortuitous that I come across this dandy little article. Now, I too can spend oodles of money, and join with these non-doctors, in trying to bilk my insurance company, so that they can shoot lasers along my acupuncture meridians to treat allergy symptoms! And they’re coming to Southern California soon, and maybe they can come to the rescue of Malia Obama, too!
“Shoots lasers at acupuncture meridians.” Hmm. Let’s think about that. First of all, what is a laser? Ultimately, it’s a tightly-focused beam of light of a given frequency created through a handful of physical processes. It’s light, the same stuff that your flourescent bulbs produce. Since you can control the frequency of the light, you can control its color, and since it’s tightly-focused so the beams move in only one direction, you can control where it goes. For most people, lasers are useful for the fact that they are absolutely straight — they are the best levelling and straight-edge tools available. But on certain media that react to electromagnetic radiation within the visible light spectrum, like compact discs, the laser can be used to produce all sorts of interesting results.
Allergies are, at their root, hyper-sensitive reactions of the immune system to particular kinds of stimuli. They occur in mucous membranes (in the form of expulsion of lymph and snot, producing sneezing and coughing), in the blood (in the form of escalated hemoglobin and immunoglobin production), and on the skin (typically in the form of a rash or hives). It’s difficult to imagine light doing anything to any of this.
See, a laser must be 1) possessed of sufficient energy to react to the medium, and 2) must be used on a medium that is reactive in some way to visible light. So, a police officer can use a sensor equipped with a laser to determine how fast your car is moving — because the surface of your car reflects (that is, reacts) to the laser. But it’s not going to cut your car open like an electromagnetic buzzsaw. It takes a Class IV laser, one operating with several orders of magnitude more power than the handheld laser pointers I use to play with my cats, can actually carry enough energy to cut metal (like in an industrial welding situation) or human issue (as with a surgical tool). Class III and lower lasers lack sufficient power to do much of anything other than to illuminate (although your retina is quite sensitive and you shouldn’t look directly into a powerful laser of any class).
The laser used in this treatment is cleared by the FDA as a “neurological relaxation device.” This device is either strong enough to pierce human tissue, or it is not. I do not imagine that having your skin pierced by a laser gun would be particularly relaxing. So it’s safe to assume that we’re looking at a laser that will only put a bright dot of light in a particular place on the body.
Now, there is a disclaimer for the service:
The treatments we perform are not medical treatments. It has been developed from an entirely different field of therapeutics using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study of human physiology and an in-depth knowledge of allergens.
Let’s repeat. “The treatments we perform are not medical treatments.” That ought to be a clue, right there, that this is something suspicious. Also, the misuse of capitals when describing traditional Chinese medicine indicates either a lack of education or an attempt to purchase credibility. The rest of their website is pretty slick (here — audio starts immediately upon load), so I’m betting on the latter.
Shining lights on the body is simply not going to do much of anything. What possible physiological effect could this have? Maybe you’ll get a tan, but it isn’t going to do anything about your allergies. If these people want to get themselves a ton of publicity, they ought to shine their lights on Malia Obama and see if she gets cured of her dog allergy. Then maybe I’ll set aside my skepticism. Or, maybe, they might not want to take a chance of putting the new President’s young daughter in a state of analphylactic shock. That might be a more prudent course of action — but a revealing one, too.