Although many of us are happy to see signs of spring, for some it's also the dreaded approach of pollen season.Many people suffer from allergies in the springtime, with symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, congestion, headaches, fogginess, and itchy, watery eyes.
Allergies are basically an overactive, or misplaced, immune response:the body reacts as though the pollen, or other allergen, is a terribly dangerous substance that must be flushed out at all costs.For unknown reasons, the immune system releases large amounts of antibodies in response to an essentially harmless substance.This in turn sets off a cascade of inflammation that causes all those annoying symptoms.
Western medicine offers a range of antihistamines that are often effective at decreasing the inflammatory response.However, they can also cause side effects like drowsiness, agitation, or dry mucus membranes.And, although they can provide some relief, these medications can't address the underlying problem.
Which is why you might want to consider using Chinese medicine this year to deal with your allergies.
In Chinese medicine, allergies are considered a problem of the wei qi (pronounced “way chee”), or protective qi.This is the protective energy that circulates on the surface of the body, keeping out foreign substances and pathogens.When an allergen gets in far enough to cause a full-blown immune response, it means the outer protective layer needs to be strengthened.
Wei qi depends on the overall strength of the qi in the body; in cases of chronic allergies, there is often an underlying weakness in Spleen, Lung and/or Kidney qi.There may also be a stagnation, excess, or imbalance of qi that weakens the protective qi from the inside.
For example, someone who gets very congested, foggy-headed, and queasy with allergies may have an underlying Spleen deficiency.A person with Lung deficiency, on the other hand, might have more wheezing, or may get hives, eczema, or other skin reactions.Someone who gets red, itchy eyes and stubborn congestion may have some Liver qi stagnation that weakens the Lung qi.Of course, in real life it is common to have a combination of these patterns.Your acupuncture and herbal treatments will be modified to suit your specific situation.
The strategy in Chinese medicine is to strengthen the underlying systems that support the wei qi, so it can do its job of keeping irritants out.At the same time, acupuncture can treat the acute symptoms you may be having.People often experience immediate relief of congestion, for example, during their acupuncture treatment.
Herbal formulas can help extend this relief between sessions, without the side effects of pharmaceutical antihistamines.Herbs are combined to strengthen the immune system, address the allergic reaction itself, and relieve symptoms such as congestion, headache, or eye irritation.Powdered formulas can be individualized, or a variety of standard formulas are available in pill form if that is more convenient for you.
Dietary modifications can also make a significant difference.The following article, on self-care ideas, has a few suggestions that are good for everyone.Depending on your pattern, other individual recommendations may also be made.
The better symptoms are controlled, the easier it is to treat the underlying causes of the allergic response and make a lasting change in your allergies.Especially for those with persistent, severe allergies, the most effective strategy is to begin treatment a few weeks before allergy season starts.People are often pleased to find they can get through allergy season comfortably without taking medications, and some even experience complete remission of allergies.
Medical research supports the effectiveness of Chinese medicine for allergy symptoms: In a study published in Allergy, 52 people with allergic rhinitis were either treated with acupuncture and herbs, or placed in a control group that received sham acupuncture and fake herbal formulas.Nearly 85 percent of those receiving real treatment reported a complete or significant improvement in symptoms, versus 40% of the control group.