Sniffle, sniffle, blink, wipe, and cough…where are the tissues?! “Hmm…well I don’t have a fever or feel in pain, so I guess I will head into work or school.”
Does this sound familiar? If so, you just might have seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis.
The main symptoms of seasonal allergies, include itchiness of the nose and eyes, sneezing and nasal discharge. Secondary signs may include cough and headache.
If left untreated patients often experience insomnia and irritability due to discomfort and trouble breathing. Allergic rhinitis is often the springing board into sinusitis with the additional symptoms of fever, sinus pressure, and pain with copious amounts of mucus.
It might seem that just about anything can set off your allergies, and perhaps they could seem to be getting more frequent. If this is the case, you may want to consider acupuncture treatments, which can help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies, as well as strengthen your body’s immune resistance. This is especially important because abnormal immune response is a major factor why you experience allergic rhinitis in the first place.
Causes of Allergic Rhinitis
Airborne allergens are the primary cause of allergic rhinitis. Tree and grass pollen in the spring and summer and weed pollen in the fall trigger allergies, as do pollution, pet dander, and dust mites.
Changes in temperature, especially as the temperature falls, can also trigger allergic rhinitis and your personal health constitution will most definitely play a role. The combination of these factors form the general etiology—or set of causes, for allergic rhinitis.
There are some people who can wade with impunity through blossoming fields and forests, never blowing their nose or wiping their eyes and stay in robust health for the duration of the cold season. But for the rest of us, the joy and anticipation we feel as the fall and winter holidays approach is often mitigated by the seasonal dread the cooler weather brings. As nature changes around us so do we begin to shop more for tissues and decongestants!
Chinese medicine views the condition of allergic rhinitis as caused primarily by the pathogenic factor of “Wind” or invading “Wind Evils”.
This wind has nothing to do with passing gas, as the connotations in modern culture might suggest. Wind in Chinese medicine is a term used to describe a way or pathway through which our body can fall into disharmony and become dysfunctional.
The idea of pathogenic factors in Chinese medicine developed from the ancient Chinese understanding of nature’s interaction in the environment. These associative references were first formed through observation and later solidified through the personal experience of the physician. Wind, an element that causes sudden changes in nature, was a way to describe quick changing bodily processes. For instance body tremors and skin disorders have within them an element of Wind pathogenic factor.
The invasions of the body by the pathogenic factor of wind are explained in modern medicine as a hyperactive immune system. We know that patients with a sensitive immune system are more vulnerable to airborne particles. These invading pathogens or particles, cause our body’s immune system to kick in, leaving us with all the lovely symptoms we come to expect during allergy season.
It is also fairly common to see both seasonal allergies and asthma in the same patient because asthma is also viewed in eastern and western medicines as a weakness in a patient’s immunity. This is why many cases of allergies and asthma in children self-resolve as they age and their immune system develops more fully. Also the opposite is true. Have you ever noticed that your allergies were worse during a specific time when you were especially tired, sick or stressed? Chances are that your immune system had been in overdrive as well.
Another secondary pathogenic factor that causes allergies in Chinese medicine is what is referred to as “Dampness”. Related to allergic rhinitis, Dampness involves the pathological accumulation of water, i.e. mucus. It can also suppress the “Spleen” function in Chinese medicine, which as we will see is the fundamental cause for allergic rhinitis.
Pathways to Pathology
Chinese medicine explains the root cause for allergic rhinitis as an internal disharmony or disruption, which then allows the external factors of Wind Evils or Dampness to invade or develop. “Wei Qi” or protective qi is a defensive energy mechanism much like our immune function and insufficient Wei Qi in Chinese medicine predisposes us to allergic rhinitis.
When our immunity is decreased due to poor health or fatigue, Chinese medicine considers that we possess low Wei Qi. A weakened “Spleen” function/energy is always seen as the starting point for a Wei Qi imbalance. A major function of the Spleen organ/energy in Chinese medicine relates to the process of digestion.
Many people do not realize that 80 percent of our immune system is located in the digestive tract. This correlates exactly with what Chinese medicine has known for thousands of years by the phrase “Wei Qi issues forth from the Middle Jiao” better known as the Spleen and Stomach. The bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract play a very important role in the mucosal immune system and help in the production of anti-bodies.
Acupuncture for Allergy Prevention
“Well,” you say, “what can I do to improve my immunity and constitution so I don’t experience allergic rhinitis or at least not as often?” Glad you asked! Let us take a look at what many people do at the end of summer and the beginning of fall.
This is a fairly important time period in the development of allergic rhinitis when many people are inadvertently weakening their spleen function by eating plenty of cold foods. Cold foods lower the optimum temperature needed for digestion in our stomachs making our bodies expend more energy on the digestive process, thereby taxing the spleen energy and making digestion that much harder. Dairy and greasy foods promote mucus production so we would do well to try to avoid these types of foods especially in the months prior to our regular allergy season.
The aim of acupuncture treatments for allergic rhinitis is to restore normal immune function by decreasing the reactivity of the body to allergens thereby reversing the inflammatory process. During the change of seasons when allergy symptoms can be severe, an acupuncturist will focus first on these. Once there is a lessening of these conditions, we will focus on strengthening and regulating the immune function of the body.
The modern scientific understanding of how acupuncture treats seasonal allergies is through the stimulation of our nervous system, which promotes the secretion of neurotransmitters that help regulate blood flow. Acupuncture also increases the body’s production of the serum ACTH, which modulates the anti-inflammatory steroid cortisol.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine truly shine in the area of preventive medicine because they view patient and pathology as interdependent and know that effective long-term benefits require investigation into many facets of a patient’s health history.
Acupuncture treat our body on what is known as the functional level. This means it improves function, especially of the muscles, organs, fluid production/balance and immunity. Acupuncture supports the healing process by using the body’s own innate energy to restore our natural health. It is frequently combined with Chinese herbal remedies, eastern food therapy, and lifestyle recommendations, to ensure longer lasting results.
As a preventive measure patients are advised to start treatments for seasonal allergies several months before their regular allergy season begins.
Miguel Maya is an acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine with a practice by Union Square in Manhattan. He accepts insurance. Miguel is also the CEO and founder of Plenty of Pros.com, a social network for professionals. Contact information as well as additional articles about acupuncture can be found on his website www.yinyangusa.com