What Is an Allergy?
An allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system to a substance that isn’t normally harmful (an allergen). It can result from food, pollen, medication, insect bites and other environmental factors like mold, animal dander and dust mites. Typically, spring allergy symptoms result from an increase in the pollen in the air from trees and grasses, and may result in: sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, asthma, itchy or irritated eyes, itchy or red skin/rash, and possibly throat irritation and sinus headaches. Allergy symptoms are usually worse on windy days when the wind spreads the pollen through the air, and improve on rainy days when the rain washes away the pollen.
Climate change is thought to worsen spring allergy symptoms for people and recent predictions (and patient accounts) show that this season is a tough one! Western medicine treatments for seasonal allergies are medications- ranging from antihistamines (which block histamine, a chemical which causes the allergy symptoms), nasal corticosteroids (reduce inflammation), and immunotherapy (allergy shots to desensitize allergic individuals), among others. Some of these drugs can be wonderfully helpful, but most of them do not address the underlying imbalance that drives the allergic reaction in the first place. They often have unwanted side-effects. (For instance, antihistamines may cause sleepiness, dryness, frequent urination, constipation, etc.)
Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on Allergies
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was developed thousands of years before anyone knew what histamine or an allergen was. Therefore, the language used to describe the energetic imbalance of an allergy sufferer is very different from that of western medicine. In TCM, allergies are considered a result of an invasion of wind-cold or wind-heat with an underlying lung deficiency. Simply put, this means that the lungs are weak and external pathogens invade the body easily. Allergy syndromes may be further aggravated by a spleen or kidney deficiency. Lung qi deficiency can be a result of lung diseases, inappropriate exercise (too much or too little exercise), genetic predisposition, or the experience of grief or sadness. These types of people may feel like they catch colds easily, and often suffer from fatigue. While there are other complicating factors, the crux of the treatment is to dispel the wind and nourish the lungs.
This is done with acupuncture and sometimes moxibustion. The most common points to treat are located on the hands and wrist along the lung and large intestine channels, and also on either side of the nose, if nasal symptoms are involved. If there are other symptoms such as asthma or itchy skin/rash, additional points are used to fortify the treatment. I also find that supplementing with herbal remedies is extremely helpful. Some patients are able to stop using both prescription and non-prescription medications after being treated for a course of therapy.
Ideally, if you suffer from bad allergies, you should begin receiving treatments and taking herbs prior to allergy season. For instance, you might begin taking herbs to strengthen your lung energy with weekly acupuncture therapy in February to ward off bad allergy attacks in the spring. Usually, a once a week regimen is recommended for several weeks during acute phases, although some people feel relief sooner. Even if you haven’t taken these preventive measures, it’s not too late to start!
Helpful Hints for Coping During Allergy Season
These hints from www.mayoclinic.com may help reduce your allergic reactions:
Acupressure is also a helpful remedy. You can use your middle or ring finger and massage the following points in a small circular motion for relief from sneezing and allergy-related sinus problems: the point mid-way between the two eyebrows; the points on either side of the nose at the lower level of the nostrils. Use the index finger and thumb of your left hand to grasp and massage the point between the index finger and thumb on the right hand (this one may be sore and tight). Then switch hands and repeat on the other side. Remember to take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet (try to limit coffee, refined sugar and dairy), drink more water, sleep enough and, if you exercise outdoors, do it in the evening when pollen levels are lower. The supplement quercitin may significantly reduce allergy symptoms and magnesium may lessen asthma complications.