The most common seasonal allergy symptoms are red itchy and watery eyes, itchy mouth and throat, runny nose sometimes accompanied by sinus pressure and headaches. In Chinese medicine these symptoms will correspond to what is called a wind invasion, which is in the same disease category as colds, flus, and some viral infections. Wind symptoms come on quickly, often affect the head and upper body and are often related to the lungs and immune system. Allergies can be a little bit more complicated as they often have a secondary component of a constitutional weakness and the presence of dampness, essentially excessive mucus and fluids which underlies the wind component.
Most people who have allergies, or issues like chronic rhinitis, have what is called in Chinese medicine a deficient spleen. This is not the same as your anatomical spleen that aids in digestion, but it is not far off. Chinese medicine will talk about organs, but they are really talking about groupings of bodily functions that are fundamentally related. The spleen is responsible for converting the food you eat into usable energy as well as other mental acuity, keeping organs in place, blood in your vessels, and is also related to water metabolism, your muscles and the four limbs of the body. A weak spleen can result in fatigue, mental fog, loose stools, and the formation of dampness which can have many manifestations like edema or swelling, excess mucus, sticky sensation in the mouth, diarrhea, or a sensation of heaviness.
In addition to a weak spleen can be a weak lung system, which again is talking about a grouping of functions. The nose, throat, and the anatomical lungs are all related in Chinese medicine. The Lungs are responsible for the distribution of energy throughout the body, essentially the oxygenation of blood, as well as the immune system, often referred to as Wei Qi in Chinese medicine. If your lungs are weak, your body’s defensive qi or Wei qi is not able to repel invaders, i.e. wind, bacteria, viruses, pollen, etc., which can result in sickness.
When we combine a weak spleen and dampness with a weak lung and wei qi system, we can become vulnerable to invading things like pollens and molds that can cause allergy symptoms.
Trying to just avoid allergens can work for somethings like food allergens, and pet dander, but it is a little harder when they are freely circulating throughout the air we are breathing in. For this a more long term solution is in order, and here is where Chinese medicine can shine.
Diet can be one of the best long term defenses against seasonal allergies. Dairy products, fried foods, cold and raw foods can wreck havoc on the spleen and lead to the formation of dampness if they are a regular part of one’s diet. Stopping smoking can be another great long term solution to helping to defend against allergies, as the constant inhalation of burning gasses damages the lungs and their related abilities of immune function.
In addition to dietary therapy, Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be very effective for helping with allergies both in the short and long term. Your acupuncturist will be able to assess the way that allergens are affecting you and help with any underlying causes to help you eliminate allergies long term. If they are an herbalist, they should also be able to recommend one of several herbal formulas that are effective in treating both the acute and chronic effects of allergies.
Acupressure, manual stimulation of acupuncture points using the hands and fingers, can be an effective solution to helping with allergies and sinus problems too if applied at the early onset of the symptoms, however, finding the correct points can require some patient education by your acupuncturist.
Moxibustion, the burning of the herb Artemisia vulgaris near or on the skin on certain acupuncture points can also be very effect for both short and long term allergy treatment. Again though, this can require a bit of education from a qualified source so that it is done safely.
So, although season allergies are definitely an annoyance, there are lots of solutions that you can utilize to help you in both the short and long term. If you have any questions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to call or make an appointment!