Lasers are touted as a tool to zap away cellulite, unwanted body hair and muscle soreness. But what about runny noses, itchy eyes, rashes and other symptoms of seasonal and food allergies?
Claims that laser therapy can be used to cure allergy symptoms have been popping up across the country, touted by some chiropractors who say the treatment represents an innovative approach to an age-old problem.
But critics question the science behind the claims, and now a far-reaching bill before California's Legislature would prohibit chiropractors from performing and advertising allergy treatments altogether.
Senate Bill 352 by Republican Senate leader Bob Huff would prohibit chiropractors from treating "hypersensitivity to foods, medications, environmental allergens, or venoms."
This week, in a bid to get Huff to drop the legislation, the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners passed a narrower regulation, banning licensed chiropractors from using lasers for allergy treatments. The regulation, which is to take effect in about two months, essentially labels claims that lasers can cure allergies as false or misleading advertising.
The laser method in question uses a biofeedback machine to simulate and test reactions to 100,000 allergens. It then uses a laser on pressure points to stimulate the nervous system, based on the claim that can reset how the body reacts to allergens, according to online testimonials.
Critics say there is no medical evidence to back claims that such treatments work.
"It sounds a lot like 21st century snake oil," said Huff, from Diamond Bar.
It's not the first time California chiropractors have been called out for their approach to treatment. One procedure in which chiropractors manipulate the spines of patients who have been anesthetized remained suspect for years before the board adopted safety regulations a year ago.
Robert Puleo, executive officer of the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, said the organization has not received consumer complaints about use of laser therapies for allergies, but decided to address the issue as part of an ongoing effort to bring regulations up to speed with new technologies.
"I think if there were some miracle cure for allergies, then nobody would be sneezing in Sacramento right now," Puleo said.
Supporters of the technology counter it is exactly that. John Davenport, a chiropractor working in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., said the treatment "truly is a miracle."
Davenport, who doesn't treat patients with life-threatening allergies, said he was skeptical of the method at first, especially because the machines can cost $30,000 to $50,000. But he said his "100-percent" success rate with patients changed his views.
"I have people fly to me from other countries to get it," said Davenport. "It works that well."
Davenport said the technology allows him to test a patient's reaction to 100,000 allergens, identifying "underlying contributive allergens" causing them problems. He maintains the treatment builds on the scientific foundations of quantum physics and biophysics.
"Medicine and allergists could adopt this equipment, work with it in their office and cure people. But they choose to go to a senator and get them to go to the Legislature to ban it rather than show anybody (can) be cured," he said.
But critics of the technology allergists chief among them abound.
Travis Miller, an allergist at the Capital Allergy & Respiratory Disease Center, said he had "substantial concern" about laser therapy for allergies after hearing from patients about advertisements for the treatment.
"Mostly because there's absolutely no scientific foundation behind the use of lasers in the diagnosis and treatment (of) allergies," Miller said.
Huff said the issue came to his attention after a staff member whose child has a severe food allergy saw an advertisement for laser therapy. He said he introduced the bill out of concern that someone could have a potentially lethal reaction after receiving a medically unproven treatment. The measure has passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly.
One local chiropractic website provided to the board by Huff's office promises an "exciting breakthrough in the natural health field" that gives patients "professional allergy relief" without shots or medications.
"Successful patients have been able to end their dependency on shots, medications, and food avoidance methods," the website read. "Sensitivities to grasses, weeds, pollen, animal dander, pollutants, medications and foods have been successfully neutralized."
Puleo says the board found that a "very small minority" of the state's roughly 13,000 licensed chiropractors are advertising use of lasers to treat allergies. Others who offer treatment for allergies and food-related sensitivities focus on dietary counseling and environmental changes.
The board and the California Chiropractic Association object to Huff's bill as overly broad, saying it would ban chiropractors from using allergy treatments that should be considered legitimate. Organization officials hope that passing the laser regulation and efforts to self-police misleading advertising will render Huff's legislation unnecessary.
Huff said he has not decided whether to proceed with the bill or broaden it to target use of laser therapy by other practitioners.
"To the degree that they're taking care of it themselves," he said, "it takes pressure off a legislative fix."