Allergy Relief Through Oriental Medicine
With the multitude of seasonal allergens to choose from, it’s no wonder that allergies tend to be a large topic of conversation.
Air born allergens include seasonal pollens such as cedar trees, grass, and weeds. As an added bonus year round allergens such as molds, vehicle exhaust, dust mites, pet dander, and insect parts can be added to the list.
Seasonal allergies can cause a great deal of discomfort with non-native plants and trees, temperature changes, and winds carrying pollen.
As far back as the 2nd century BC, Oriental medicine (OM) techniques such as acupuncture, herbs, and dietary recommendations have been used to provide relief from the environment and create balance in the body. Today we know that acupuncture can modulate levels of cytokines and anti-inflammatory mediators as well as regulate the immune system’s overall response when too weak or overly active.
In conventional medicine, allergies are an increased response to an antigen or substances that can enter the body and stimulate it to create antibodies called IgE which bind to allergens. Mast cells then release histamine which cause symptoms (heat, pain, swelling, redness, itchiness, etc).
It is important to note that air born allergens are a localized immune system (wei qi) blockage that tends to cause symptoms in the head such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, post nasal drip, headaches, ear congestion, throat irritation and/or occasional body fatigue. While the common cold (gan mao) tends to include most of the head symptoms but will also carry on to body aches, chills, fever, and for some digestive disturbances.
On top of these already uncomfortable symptoms, underlying factors can also contribute to this immune system burden (e.g. food sensitivities, chemical additives to foods, tobacco smoke, chemicals in the home or workplace, medications, or even hormonal fluctuations).
If left untreated or ignored, air born allergies can progress to more serious conditions such as:
- Allergic rhinitis is the body’s immune system over-responding to non-infectious particles in the air. Symptoms include the development of sinusitis, eustachian tube dysfunction, chronic otitis media, and anosmia (inability to smell).
- Sinusitis, which is inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, typically happens after having allergic rhinitis. This happens when sinuses become blocked and fill with mucous that can harbor bacteria, viruses, or mold causing an infection.
- Both rhinitis and sinusitis can lead to less productivity at work and more doctor visits.
- Some people may exhibit increased allergy sensitivities. For example, people who have fibromyalgia are more aware and some pregnant women in their second trimester may experience increased allergic symptoms and hypersensitivity to their environment and medications.
Allopathic medications can help in acute conditions, but tends to mask symptoms and come with a slew of side effects. Many patients turn to antihistamine relief at the first sign of allergies and are quickly prescribed antibiotics for nasal rhinitis.
Antihistamines are designed to treat allergies and relieve respiratory symptoms by blocking the effects of histamine, which is a not a natural process, as they affect ALL mucous membranes and can dry them out. Common antihistamines, such as Benadryl, tend to dry up body fluids (jin ye).
Other medication side effects include drowsiness, epistaxis (nose bleeds), and nasal dryness in addition to normal allergy symptoms. Steroids (oral, topical, inhaled) can reduce inflammation but foster overgrowth of yeast. Prolonged or inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to immune deficiencies, digestive disturbances, and chronic fatigue.
The cause (pathogenic factors) of allergies is a relative idea. OM pays considerable attention to the symptoms of pathogenic factors (allergens), which are related to body constitution and lifestyle factors.
Food sensitivities or allergies, blood sugar fluctuations and stress can tax the kidneys (adrenals) and create a cortisol imbalance. This depletion leads to inflammation in the body which may manifest as pain, tightness, fatigue, and water retention leading to poor digestion and lowered immunity.
Compromised digestion and immunity invite our external environment and seasonal allergens to easily allow for viral and bacterial infections to take hold.
Seasonal symptoms can be predictable:
- Fall – ragweed whose symptoms are characterized as Wind Dryness
- Winter – cedar, cedar fever is clearly Wind Heat
- Year round allergies have a Wind component
- Mold is considered Wind Dampness
Acupuncture Treatments help to moderate the body’s response to allergens and help create a healthy immune response. Although an appropriate diagnosis of a person’s presenting pattern is important, there are specific allergy points located in the ears and important points on the hand, feet, head & face. In addition to needles cupping, moxibustion and herbs play a strong role in improving the way you feel.
Herbal Treatments, which are easily modifiable, also support the immune response and continue to help as a daily therapy to compliment acupuncture treatments.
A common Chinese formula, Jade Wind Screen Yu Ping Feng San, is helpful for year round allergy sufferers who tend to have a weakened immune response, characteristically tend to catch cold easily and are sick longer than normal. It can be administered two months before specific seasons as well as during.
For more acute allergies non-sedating antihistamine formulas such as Nose Inflammation Formula Bi Yan Pian, Magnolia Flower Powder Xin Yi San and Pe Me Kan Wan are very helpful. When made into a tea the steam can be inhaled from the cup to get an immediate effect before drinking
- If you are aware of a seasonal allergy don’t wait until symptoms occur to start receiving acupuncture and herbal treatments. Starting treatments at least two months prior will prepare and support the immune system for the season to come.
- Check daily pollen counts before leaving your home.
- Whenever possible exercise *indoors in moderate temperatures, esp. in the afternoon when pollen counts are highest. Also avoid haze and smog, weather changes and exhaust fumes from vehicles.
- All mucosal membranes are affected by eating foods that create an immune response. Avoid phlegm producing foods (dairy, wheat and soy which are also common food allergens)
- Reduce processed sugars – sugar decreases immune function and increases inflammation.
- Reduce your internal load: In your home and work spaces use non-toxic, low residue paint and household cleaners. When looking for body products buy aluminum free, low in chemical and perfume additives.
- Moderate emotional factors – crying, yelling and distress – all cause increases in cortisol, which in excess decreases immune function.
- An additional, a natural approach is a nasal saline lavage. It has minor decongestant benefits and improves mucociliary function in both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis. To avoid contamination from faucets, try distilled water.
*Note: mold spores are found indoors too.