Causes of Seasonal Allergies According to TCM
Chinese herbs and Chinese medicine is very effective at addressing seasonal allergies and hay fever because there is a core understanding of the underlying root cause for this bodily imbalance. In Chinese medicine, hay fever has much more to do with the terrain of your body than external forces; in other words, you must have an underlying imbalance or weakness of the Wei Qi to be susceptible to the effects of pollen.
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Seasonal Allergies and TCM
Here are a few of the many reasons that your body becomes out of balance and is susceptible to seasonal allergies:
- Genetic weaknesses and predisposition to allergies is generally thought of as a Kidney Deficiency and is a constitutional weakness of Essence. .
- Poor eating habits such as eating fried foods, sugars, processed foods, and raw foods can damage the Spleen and lead to Dampness and a weakened immune system. Obviously, improving lifestyle habits is ideal.
- Chronic stress, ongoing exposure to the natural elements, and lack of rest can create an over taxation on the body and lead to fatigue and weakened resistance to external invasions of pathogens such as pollen.
Acute Hay Fever and TCM
Most people think that seasonal hay fever and allergies are caused by pollen; this assumption is fully incorrect according to Chinese medicine; if pollen were the sole culprit of this type of allergy, everyone would suffer from hay fever. As seen above, the ideal way to address seasonal allergies is to strengthen the body and to prevent hay fever from ever occurring. The question is, if you have not taken preemptive actions to optimize your health, how do you treat the allergies you are experiencing right now and alleviate the symptoms?
Acute Seasonal Allergies and TCM
For acute and general hay fever with stuffiness, sneezing, scratchy eyes and throat use herbs that 'Expel Exterior Wind Heat Pathogen', Yin Chao formula is often used short term or echinacea can be used in a pinch and can be found locally at any good health food store. Additionally, essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus oils can be used to drain sinuses; simply apply essential oils to a wash cloth placed in your shower and allow the hot water to create a steam. These oils must be diluted to apply over the sinuses to 5% and 95% carrier oil or they will burn the skin.
Chronic Sinus Congestion and TCM
Sinus Infection and TCM
When the Dampness associated with seasonal allergies and hay fever is not addressed quickly, sinus infections can develop. Treating sinus infections requires strong anti-biotic herbs such as goldenseal, coptis, or Oregon grape root. These herbs are bitter and difficult to take as a decoction or tea and are better administered as a tablet or capsule. Additionally, the herbs are designed to remove ‘Heat Toxins’ and are very cold herbs that can only be taken for a few of weeks before they start negatively impacting the digestive system (this is also true with pharmaceutical antibiotics). When treating infections with herbs you must address the issue quickly, consistently dose at therapeutic rates, and continue treatments for several days after symptoms have abated. In cases where the infections have become chronic (more than 2 weeks and non responsive to antibiotics), Drying herbs such as mullein and thyme can be used to address the underlying Dampness and Metal Element imbalances and can even be used while taking anti-biotic herbs.
Asthma Due to Seasonal Allergies and TCM
With spring's sunshine and flowers come wind and pollen, which for many people signals the onset of allergy season. Tree pollens are the most prevalent pollens in the spring and many trees are prolific pollinators. Grass and weed pollens follow in late spring and summer, and airborne mold spores can be found almost year round, not to mention other common allergens such as dust, dust mites, and animal dander.
Many asthma sufferers remain symptom free during the majority of the year, but their asthma flairs up seasonally with the blooming of the trees, flowers, and weeds.Consider mullein tea used long term (not just at the time of acute symptoms), as it takes many months to reinforce the Lungs. Preferably, start using it several months before pollen is abundant. Using the correct approach, you can avoid seasonal allergies and hay fever with great effectiveness.
Allergic Rhinitis and Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine often views allergic rhinitis as related to 'Wind' noting that symptoms come and go rapidly, cause congestion, and make the person want to avoid windy situations. This Wind often coexists with a deficiency of the Protective Qi, or Wei, Qi. People with Wei Qi deficiency catch colds easily, and allergy symptoms may be particularly bad in the spring or fall, seasons which are generally windy.
While many over-the-counter remedies promise symptomatic relief, tonic herbs address the causes of allergies; treating the whole person, and focusing on balancing the immune system leads to substantial long-term health benefits in alleviating allergies. Addressing the more deeply-rooted signs in each person who presents with allergies is pivotal in developing a successful strategy according to Chinese medicine. The principle here is treating the whole person rather than chasing symptoms. Often, people with chronic allergies show signs of Spleen or Kidney Deficiency as well as Lung imbalances according to Traditional Chinese medicine. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an example of misplaced immunity. It is a learned response by the immune system where rapid physiological changes resulting in itchy eyes and throat, sinus congestion and sneezing, asthma, and even diarrhea are produced.
Typically, exposure to an allergen such as tree pollen elicits a massive release of IgE antibodies which attach to white blood cells known as mast cells. These cells are mostly located in the lungs and upper respiratory tract, the lining of the stomach and the skin. When these cells are stimulated, they release a number of chemicals including histamine which produce the allergic symptoms. For some, allergic symptoms can aggravate asthma or chronic sinusitis, both conditions that are well addressed with herbal formulas.
IgE-mediated allergies result in almost immediate symptoms and may be life-long or 'fixed.' There are also other types of allergic responses, which can be transient. One example is the delayed hypersensitivity reaction in which the allergic response may take up to 72 hours to manifest itself. These immune system reactions are often IgG-mediated and are commonly seen with food as well as inhalant allergies. Additionally, practitioners may also use the term allergy to describe other immune system responses such as nonspecific hypersensitivity or intolerance which are not classic allergic reactions but produce undesirable health effects in response to environmental exposures or food.
The Total Load Theory states that for some people exposure to a single allergen may not be enough to trigger a symptomatic response; however, exposure to several allergens near the same time elicits an allergic response. For example, let's say that one is allergic to cow's milk and to cypress pollen. She may drink milk daily without any noticeable allergic response, however when cypress pollens are present, she suffers from allergies. By avoiding dairy products during pollen season, she may be able to lessen her 'allergic load' and reduce her symptoms without reliance on symptomatic medications.
One misconception about tonic herbs that address immune system imbalances is that they will stimulate the immune system; those with allergies know that their immune system is already hyper-active and they do not want to stimulate it further. In reality, the Wei Qi herbs and other formulas normalize the immune response, and will not act in a way to stimulate the immune response negatively.