Let's start with the basics: Allergies are an immune system response as your body is trying to protect itself. As we know, there are many forms that allergies can take - breakouts, sneezing, scratchy eyes, puffiness. In this article, my focus is on seasonal allergies, I plight from which many people suffer.
Symptoms of season allergies can manifest as allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion and stuffiness) asthma and difficulty breathing, puffy/itchy eyes, headaches and more. The western medical approach to treating allergies is to take antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, Clarinex, and Allegra. Though these drugs are effective for treating uncomfortable symptoms, they do not offer a cure.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the presence of allergies is seen as an underlying imbalance in the body and a weakness of the body's defensive network, known as Wei Qi. From the perspective of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, our solution is to supplement the body with carefully chosen and thoughtfully crafted herbal formulas, which work to bring the body back to homeostasis, a state of natural balance.
By using herbal formulas, we treat both the "branch" (symptoms) and the "root" (underlying cause). The three common causes of seasonal allergies according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory are:
- an external invasion, such as excessive exposure to cold, heat, wind, or damp weather;
- a lack of energy, known as Qi deficiency, and,
- in children, insufficient growth of the immune system, known as Yuan deficiency.
An external invasion is the most common cause of seasonal allergies, and symptoms resemble a mild cold. It usually occurs after a dramatic temperature change or after prolonged exposure to the harmful weather, particularly wind. To help with nasal congestion resulting from this condition, we use the formula Cang Er Zi San to clear the nasal passages. To prevent an external invasion, it is important to keep your immune system strong by eating warm nourishing foods, drinking plenty of fluids and getting a good night sleep, as well as wearing proper clothing when going outdoors.
Keeping the back of your neck covered when going outside on a windy or cold day is particularly important way for preventing an external invasion. Dry hot air from indoor heating systems can also aggravate allergies in the same way, and you want to avoid using this too much. A Chinese herbal formula, Yu Ping Feng San is particularly useful for preventing an external invasion. Yu Ping Feng San translates to “Jade Windscreen Powder,” implying that this formula acts as protective layer against the elements, much like a warm scarf. This formula works from the inside out, opening and closing the pores of the body to keep the pathogens from entering your body.
Qi Deficiency and Seasonal Allergies
Another type of seasonal allergy is due a deficiency in Qi, which causes a weakening of the immune system defenses. This is something that everyone has experienced - you feel tired and sluggish and have difficulty mustering the energy to complete your daily tasks.
In this situation it is common for people to take antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms, but antihistamines only treat symptoms, and don't address the root, so they don't provide complete relief.
As an alternative, acupuncture is a great way to increase energy and control seasonal allergies. Since the lungs are most affected by seasonal allergies, we would use acupuncture points along the lung meridian. An appropriate formula in this case is Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. This contains the Chinese herb Huang Qi, better known as Astragalus. Huang Qi is used in many herbal medicine traditions as a way to increase energy and prevent colds as well as alleviate the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. That means this herbal formula treats both the main complaint and the causative factor simultaneously.
Seasonal Allergies and Kids
Lastly, it is very common for children under the age of 12 to experience seasonal allergies at levels varying from mild to extreme. While the main cause may be dust, pollen, pets, or dander, there is also an underlying cause - an underdeveloped immune system. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are great at treating childhood allergies. Sometimes it is hard to find the time to bring children in for weekly treatments, but nutritional therapy can be of great assistance. Some therapeutic foods for these children include fish, lentils, oats, and walnuts. Walnuts in particular are wonderful for boosting what we call Kidney Qi, which we consider essential in childhood growth and development.
A Kid Friendly Recipe to Boost Your Kids' Kidney Qi
- 0.5 lbs. Walnuts
- 1 Tbsp. Black Sesame Seed
- 1 Tbsp. Honey
Chop walnuts into small pieces. Then roast the walnuts in olive oil on low heat until they are slightly browned. Pour sesame seeds and honey into the same pot. Stir until all the ingredients are mixed together. Remove from heat and form into bit-sized balls. Place in container lined with wax paper and let cool in the refrigerator. Eat daily as high energy snacks between meals.