Maybe your eyes water when the flowers bloom, or maybe it’s pollen that makes your nose run: either way, you’re probably familiar with seasonal allergies.
There are many symptoms of seasonal allergies, lots of which you’ve likely experienced. They include itchy eyes and/or nose, red and watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and inflammation of the sinuses and bronchi.
There are many types of allergies - what makes these specifically seasonal allergies is that the allergens that cause these responses vary from season to season. All types of allergies, though, are characterized by an abnormal immune response to a foreign substance. This can be an environmental substance, such as pollen, dander or dust, a pet, or a medication. It can also be a type of food, which could result in a gluten allergy or a peanut allergy. Allergies can also appear on the skin, which is known as contact dermatitis. This can be caused by a variety of substances, most commonly grass or poison ivy.
Western medicine treats allergies with antihistamine medication, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and/or bronchodilators when necessary. Desensitization treatments known as allergy immunotherapy can also be used. These treatments consist of a diagnostic skin test, which determines what the patient is allergic to, followed by exposure treatments. Exposure treatments consist of injections of a small amount of the known allergen that stimulate a more appropriate immune response to the specific allergen. This is usually done over a long period, even up to five years in duration.
TCM views allergies in a few different ways. One of the most common diagnoses is a deficiency of the Wei (defensive) Qi, which leads to wind invasions. Wind pathogens are the equivalent of environmental factors, or anything carried by the wind and invading the body. Someone with deficient Wei Qi may be prone to frequent colds and have symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Another common TCM diagnosis for allergies is called Bi Yuan - which roughly translates to “Nose Pool.” This refers to allergies affecting mainly the sinuses and eyes, characterized by runny, itchy, and red nose and eyes. This is also caused by a deficiency of the Wei Qi, but specifically within the Lung Channel, as the Lung channel travels through the nose and throat.
After these two broad diagnoses, allergies in TCM will be diagnosed based mainly on the organ system that is being affected. If the eyes are affected, then the Liver organ/channel is likely involved. If there are simultaneous digestive issues, then the Stomach and/or Spleen channel is perhaps the culprit. If there is a lot of fatigue and exhaustion, then the Kidney channel could be to blame. Once the diagnosis is obtained, we can treat allergies with a proper selection of Acupuncture points. There are also many herbal formulas that may be used. In addition, cupping can sometimes be used to strengthen the Wei Qi, especially of the Lungs.
It is not an either/or - TCM can work alongside western medical treatments. TCM can minimize side effects and help the body move toward homeostasis. Acupuncture can help control inflammation levels in the body, and further research is being done on acupuncture’s effect on histamine production, hormonal levels, and various other indicators of wellbeing and homeostasis. There are also various acupuncture points that can help treat the individual symptoms of allergies - such as Bitong for congested or inflamed sinuses, and DU14 for strengthening the body's Wei Qi.
It is critical to minimize your exposure to allergens whenever possible – an air purifier at home can be very helpful. Staying well hydrated is always good advice, especially while outside. To help with indoor allergies, minimizing carpeting, vacuuming and regularly cleaning bedding can also be helpful. Diet can also play a role in minimizing allergic reactions. Obviously, foods that create an allergic reaction should be avoided. In addition, certain foods can cause the body to create more histamines than may be healthy. A nutritionist or holistically focused Doctor can help you determine whether or not you should be trying an “antihistamine diet”, and there is plenty of information about this available online through reputable websites - such as https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/allergy-asthma/natural-treatment-for-seasonal-allergies/.
Next time you reach for your allergy medication, consider using TCM in addition to this approach. TCM can help identify the root cause behind your allergies, letting you enjoy the spring without constantly reaching for that tissue.