By Philip Jean, L.Ac
Imagine having to stay home because the pollen count is too high during a perfect 75 degree, but windy day, while people are out enjoying the soothing Spring Sun. I’ve watched my mom suffer from allergies for years where she could not go a day without her Benadryl. A good friend of mine once sneezed uncontrollably for 5 minutes straight in my car followed by blood shot eyes that forced him to go home in the middle of our meeting. That was brutal to watch. With another long and cold Winter now behind us, Spring is the relief that we have all been waiting for. But for many it is quite the opposite. Every year millions of people across the U.S. suffer from seasonal allergies associated with Hay Fever. Symptoms include, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and even skin irritations. Like my mother, many allergy sufferers stock up on their Benadryl, Claritin, Nasal Sprays and Eye drops. However, as effective as these remedies may be, they can get expensive and have side effects for some people who use them. Acupuncture has proven itself to be an effective, safe and reliable alternate treatment in the battle against seasonal allergies. Let’s first discuss the etiology of seasonal allergies according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Basic biology and likewise, TCM, tells us that every organ has a particular function that it is responsible for. The Lungs breath in the fresh oxygenated air that we cannot go several minutes without while breathing out carbon dioxide as waste in the process know as respiration. In Chinese medicine they are also the first line of defense against external pathogens that can cause disease. They are part of what they call Wei Qi which you can think of as the energetic shield that your body produces against harm. It is the TCM name for the immune system. The Lungs are responsible for sending this Wei Qi all over the body to protect it against the many virus’, germs and in our case, the pollen that are always present in the air we breath. During the Spring season, wind is the predominant pathogen according to TCM and wind can carry other pathogens as well. In this case wind is the vehicle in which the allergens move from place to place and into your breathing passages that open into the lungs. This is why allergy sufferers experience most commonly Rhinitis which is the inflammation of the mucous membranes resulting in a stuffy, itchy and irritable nose accompanied by excessive sneezing. The Qi of the Lungs must be able to disperse this Wei Qi to all parts of the body to form a good strong immune defense. For many people who have unhealthy habits, this Lung Qi can be impaired manifesting as a weak immune system resulting in symptoms much like the common-cold. Now you might be thinking, you are healthy, eat well, exercise and don’t smoke yet you have seasonal allergies. There has been a growing consensus that seasonal allergies affect some and not others because some have hypersensitive immune systems and a bit of pollen will affect them instead of people who’s immune systems are not as sensitive. That may be true but it still doesn’t explain why the immune system is hyperactive in the first place and why immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone.
This is where TCM shines. In TCM not everyones allergic reactions are universal and so that’s why we don’t treat everyones condition exactly the same. An Acupuncturist must first correctly identify and diagnose the deep and underlying issues that affect each individual patient in regards to seasonal allergies. No two people are exactly alike and likewise their responses to the pathogens in the air during the Spring season. There may be other organs at play to answer why someone who seems perfectly healthy and practices healthy habits suffers from seasonal allergies while someone who smokes a pack of Marlboro’s every day doesn’t. There is a checks and balances system that is inherent in the human body just like all of nature and so an impairment in one organ may lead to the impairment of another: “Earth is the Mother of Metal and Spleen-Qi deficiency often leads to Lung-Qi deficiency. Heart-Qi deficiency may also lead to Lung-Qi deficiency given the close relationships between these two organs in the chest; this is a common situation especially when emotional stress is the cause of the disease.” (Macioca 546) To further explain this quotation, in TCM, the Spleen (along with the Stomach) is the organ responsible for the processing of the foods and drinks you put into your body. It’s Qi is what does all the processing and it is very sensitive to certain kinds of foods. Particularly raw and cold foods because it needs to use more energy (Qi) in order to process these foods as opposed to cooked ones that have been pre-processed as a result of being cooked. So someone who eats raw salads, fruits, and drinks fresh vegetable juices on a very frequent basis can be impairing their Spleen Qi thereby leading to Lung Qi deficiency. I am not saying that raw foods isn’t good for you, but too much of it may not be, and cooking your veggies a bit more may actually improve your allergy symptoms.
There is also a strong correlation between your emotional state and your organs. In the case of the Lungs, sadness can cause Lung Qi deficiency: “Sadness and grief deplete Lung-Qi and cause Lung Qi deficiency. With time, deficient Qi fails to move in the chest and Qi stagnation results.” (Macioca 546) This means that someone who is physically healthy but often experiences sad or depressed emotions may be contributing to his allergic reactions. And for some people their Lungs may be hereditarily weak from birth and have been suffering from allergies their whole lives having taken every antihistamine available.
As you can see there are factors at play for your allergies that conventional medicine may not be able to identify. But Acupuncture as a holistic remedy seeks to address not just your physical imbalances, but also your dietary, emotional, and spiritual ones. In my clinical experience I have seen consistent and significant relief of the allergy symptoms of my clients using needling treatments alone but lifestyle changes have the ability to compliment the relief to an even further extent. Below I have included some articles on studies that have been done on Acupuncture’s effectiveness with treating seasonal allergies. I welcome all of you to try Acupuncture in your regimen for allergy relief. You’ve been waiting all Winter for this, now go out there and enjoy the warm sun.
Philip Jean, L.Ac
Founder of Lifestyle Acupuncture
- Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. 2nd Edition. Elsevier ChurchHill Livingstone, 2005. Print