Immune System

How to Treat Hives With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

hive urticaria rash
The burning itchy rash caused by hives can move around the body.

Skin rash with itchy welts or red bumps that seem to appear suddenly, then move to another part of the body, or go away? Hives, also known as urticaria, are caused by a type of allergic reaction that creates a temporary rash or swelling of the skin. TCM and acupuncture have been used for centuries to help relieve hives caused by allergies.

Hives are fairly common, occurring in about 20% of people of all ages. An acute, or short-lived, case of hives may occur because of being exposed to some unusual, new chemical or natural irritant in a person’s environment, maybe in some product, or some pollen or bug. These usually go away quickly, and it may be fairly obvious what it was that caused the outbreak of hives. However, sometimes people develop chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU), in which a person may break out in hives often on an ongoing basis and have no idea why it keeps happening.

Allergies can manifest in many ways: sometimes causing sneezing, watery eyes, or skin problems. Hives are another way that an allergic reaction can show up. Hives, or urticaria, are distinguishable from other types of skin rash, like eczema or shingles rash, because, unlike other rashes, they do not form fluid-filled bumps or cause dryness, scaliness, or cracking of the skin. Rather, hives are raised welts on the skin that appear red, but then turn white when you press on them; this is known as “blanching.” Hives can look like small, narrow lines, or big, patchy blotches.

Urticaria is related to, and sometimes confused with, angioedema, which is a similar condition, in which deep layers of skin become swollen, often around the eyes and mouth, also due to irritation by some allergen. Angioderma can coexist with hives, and can be more dangerous than hives, if it causes tissues in the throat or tongue to become so swollen that the airway is blocked.

Hives often clear up on their own within a few days or weeks without any treatment. However, some people develop chronic hives, in which the hives rash keeps recurring for weeks or months, or longer. Chronic hives can be a uniquely painful and frustrating condition; never knowing when you might break out into a burning, itchy rash. Hives worse at night or hives worse after sleeping are common experiences for people who suffer from chronic urticaria. Breaking out in hives can make a person feel panic, making it very difficult to get on with daily tasks. Acupuncture treatment can help alleviate the burning and itching of acute hives or chronic hives, and help relieve the allergies, stress, and other underlying conditions that bring them on.

Top 10 Hives Causes or Triggers

allergy pet dander hives
Pet dander can trigger hives.

In general, what causes hives most of the time is an allergic reaction to some external stimulus. Touching something, eating something, or inhaling something that you are allergic to can cause urticaria to break out on the skin, sometimes briefly, sometimes moving around from one area or the skin to another, or seeming to spread over the skin. Things that can cause hives include:

  1. Foods, especially those that are well-known allergens like nuts, shellfish, dairy, and eggs, but also fruits, especially citrus fruits
  2. Contact with certain plants
  3. Pollen in the environment
  4. Medications, including antibiotics, OTC pain relievers
  5. Latex
  6. Pet dander
  7. External stimuli from the climate – sun exposure, heat, cold
  8. Bacterial infections in the body, like strep throat or a UTI
  9. Viral infections in the body, like colds, hepatitis or mononucleosis (viral hives)
  10. Blood transfusions

Insect bites or itchy rashes that cause you to scratch at your skin can also cause hives to appear in other areas. Simple pressure on the skin, from sitting or leaning on a patch of skin for a long time, can cause hives. Some people break out in hives when they are under a lot of pressure or emotional stress, even if they are not aware of having allergies or other underlying causes for hives. Sometimes this is called a “stress rash.”

Treatment for Hives

Hives are most commonly treated with antihistamines, which can help relieve itching. Many people experience some type of side effect from taking antihistamines, including: headache, drowsiness, fatigue, and hay fever type symptoms. Some people do get relief from a temporary hives rash after taking Benadryl or something similar. But for others, it may not help, and then doctors often prescribe a corticosteroid as an anti-inflammatory. If steroid treatment for hives does not help, immunosuppressants may be recommended. Depending on the root cause of the hives, these types of pharmacological solutions may or may not work to relieve hives. Acupuncture and TCM treatment focuses on solving the deeper problems that cause hives, without any negative side effects.

How Can Acupuncture Help Hives?

hot bath hives
Hot baths and showers can damage your skin’s protective layers and trigger hives.

As we have seen, conventional western medicine mostly looks at hives in terms of allergies. But in order to resolve the hives, we have to look more closely at why a person has those allergies. Why are some people affected so strongly by certain foods or certain environmental conditions while other people are not affected at all? We have to consider a person’s constitutional health.

As we have discussed in other articles, in TCM the concept of Wei Qi refers to the body’s protective defenses, the action of which stems mainly from the lungs and the skin. Many types of illness are considered to be related to a weakness or breakdown in the Wei Qi that allows external pathogenic factors to enter the body and take hold. Wind is one such external pathogenic factor. Heat and cold are others. Viral and bacterial infections also find their way into the body when the Wei Qi energy is weakened.

6 Pathogenic Factors According to TCM:

  1. Wind
  2. Cold
  3. Summer Heat
  4. Dampness
  5. Dryness
  6. Fire

Hives come mostly from wind and heat. In TCM, urticaria is known as Feng Zhen Kuai, or “wind rash patch.” Wind describes the nature of urticaria rash in the sense that the hives welts come and go, as if blown about. 

When people get hives, it is usually because of one of a few common factors.

  1. Yin deficiency/Dryness – If the body is too dry, when any allergens get in, there is not enough moisture in the body to wash them out of the system; this causes the breakout.
  2. Fire/Heat – If there is too much heat, fire, and inflammation in the body, when there is exposure to allergens, the body can’t take any more and will break out.
  3. Liver stagnation with Heat – When a person is under stress for a long time, it can exacerbate stagnation of Qi in the liver system, which over time causes heat to build up, then the body cannot process little irritations. The liver and kidneys have to do all the work to filter toxins out of the body, but when those organs are overstressed, the body will try to get rid of excess heat through the skin.

Usually, if a person is having chronic hives, it has a lot to do with their food and their habits around their exposure to the elements. For example, in the winter time, in order to be harmonious with the season, the body is meant to experience cold. But many people keep the heater on and keep their environment very warm all the time. This leads to dry air and can cause even people without any allergies to feel itchy. People also tend to take long, hot showers, which can destroy some of the skin’s natural protective layers and cause it to be raw and easily irritated. 

In western thought, when a person has a reaction such as hives to certain foods (spicy foods, alcohol), it is thought of as an allergic reaction, but in Chinese medicine we see this as being the body’s reaction to too much heat. If a person already has a fiery constitution, or liver stagnation, and then there are external hot conditions, and hot foods coming in all at once, the internal heat can explode out, creating the burning rash on the skin.

Cupping can be very helpful for treating hives; it exfoliates the skin and helps to draw toxins out. This will help to cool down the hives outbreak. Then we go further with acupuncture and herbs to strengthen the lungs, the liver, and the Wei Qi.

A systematic review of clinical trials studying the use of TCM methods and acupuncture to treat hives, both as an alternative and an adjunct to medication treatment, concluded that acupuncture is a safe and effective way to reduce symptoms of hives or chronic urticaria. Chinese herbs are also well-known for helping to relieve hives.

Top 5 Tips for Hives Relief

wind hives
Wind, whether cold or hot and dry, can cause hives.

How to get rid of hives for good will mean paying attention to what triggers the rash for each individual. To avoid this kind of allergic reaction hives, protect your Wei Qi with healthy habits. Prioritize rest and good nutrition to build up your immunity and protect your lungs and skin.

  1. Avoid a cold wind blowing on you, whether outside, or from a fan or air conditioner. Dress appropriately; always bring an extra layer so you don’t catch a chill or have a bright sun shining on your skin for a long time when you didn’t expect it.
  2. Avoid very hot showers, baths, saunas, etc. 
  3. Engage in regular exercise to help boost your blood circulation; walking is always ideal. This will help to reduce stress, as will a meditation practice.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Good quality sleep is essential to help build up the Wei Qi.
  5. Avoid foods that are either too hot (spicy or fried, red meats) or too cold (raw foods). No alcohol or coffee. These triggering foods and beverages can really make the hives worse. Drink more water to eliminate the dryness in the body.

If a patient is having trouble figuring out what it is that is causing his or her hives breakouts, a TCM provider may be able to find the underlying reason behind the rash.

Acupuncture Near Me for Hives

People of all ages can receive acupuncture treatment for hives and allergies. The doctors at Art of Wellness have been helping people get relief from allergies and itchy skin conditions for over three decades. We can provide help for children with hives with herbs and acupuncture. If you or someone you love is suffering from hives, please consider giving TCM and herbs a try.

 

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

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How to Treat Shingles With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Shingles rash
Shingles rash usually appears on the side of the torso.

Itchy, painful skin rash of blisters on one side of your torso? Burning rash on your face? These are the classic signs of shingles, also known as herpes zoster or varicella zoster, the same viral infection that causes chicken pox. Acupuncture and TCM treatment can calm the acute pain of the shingles rash and help it to heal more quickly, while also offsetting the nerve damage that can result from a herpes zoster infection.

Shingles most often affects older adults, but it can happen to people of all ages. Estimates suggest that one-third of all people will develop herpes zoster at some point in their lives. If you had chicken pox when you were younger, the virus still lives in your body, settling into the nerve tissue in the spinal cord near the brain. When the virus is somehow triggered, it can reactivate, creating a very painful, burning rash, usually in some small, localised area. While medical science hasn’t pinpointed exactly what causes the varicella virus to lie dormant and then reemerge, shingles is believed to be triggered in at least some cases by emotional and mental stress. Chronic stress can cause serious compromisation of the body’s immune system, allowing an old disease to take hold in the body again. People with autoimmune disease, cancer, or HIV may be at increased risk for developing shingles, as well as people who take medications, like steroids, that affect the immune system.

While shingles may go away on its own after a few to several weeks, there can be serious complications. If the rash develops on the face near the eyes, it can cause vision problems, even blindness. Some people develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can cause the burning, itching, and painful sensations to continue even after the rash on the surface of the skin has cleared up. Neuralgia is basically synonymous with neuropathy, a condition in which nerve cells have been damaged, causing tingling and pain.

If shingles lesions appear near the ears, or affect the facial nerve that connects to the ears, it can lead to Ramsay Hunt syndrome (RHS), also known as herpes zoster oticus, which can cause dizziness or vertigo, earaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and even hearing loss. Other potential complications of shingles include pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling in the brain).

Acupuncture can be an effective alternative or adjunct to conventional medications for helping to relieve the intense acute pain of the shingles rash in the short term, and can also be used to help prevent and alleviate the potential long-term effects of shingles, like postherpetic neuralgia.

Top 5 Symptoms of Shingles

shingles rash face
Shingles rash can develop on one side of the face near the eye

Usually before a shingles rash is visible on the skin, the person will begin feeling a tingling or burning sensation in that area. This can last a few or several days before the rash breaks out.

The signs of herpes zoster include:

  1. A rash that develops in a stripe (sometimes called a “shingles band” or a dermatome) on one side of the torso, ribcage, or waist area, or on one side of the face near the eye or ear. The rash is red and blistered and causes a lot of pain, burning, and itching.
  2. Fever
  3. Headache
  4. Chills
  5. Stomach upset, stomachache, nausea, or vomiting

In some cases, the rash clears up on its own within a few weeks. However, because shingles can sometimes become more complicated, creating skin infections and other more serious conditions, it is advisable to seek help from your health care providers as soon as you suspect you might have it.

What Is the Treatment for Shingles?

Shingles is not a curable illness; it is the resurfacing of an old viral infection that pretty much has to run its course. Medical treatment usually involves a prescription for antiviral medication such as Acyclovir, which, if taken within the first few days, may help reduce the severity of the rash and lessen the time that it lasts. Management of shingles pain is mostly taken care of with over the counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, although a doctor may also recommend topical creams, possibly with corticosteroids.

While a person has an active shingles rash, he or she is contagious to other people who have not yet had a case of the chickenpox or the varicella zoster vaccine. This means that other people could contract chickenpox from exposure to the person with shingles; but another person can not get shingles from a person who has shingles. It is important to keep the rash covered, avoid touching and scratching it, wash your hands, clothes, and bedding frequently, and stay away from young children, pregnant women, and anyone who may be vulnerable to getting chickenpox.

How Can Acupuncture Help Shingles?

acupuncture treatment
acupuncture treatment can help relieve the painful shingles rash

While the scientific understanding of how viruses spread and function in the human body is clearly still very much a work in progress, acupuncture and herbs have been used to help the condition we recognize as shingles for over a thousand years. TCM philosophy views shingles as being related mainly to heat and dampness. As acupuncturists, we see shingles generally presenting in one of three ways:

  1. Liver Fire – in this case, the rash will be very red and hot, with a burning sensation. This type of herpes zoster outbreak is probably related to a long period of emotional stress or overwork, possibly combined with an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol consumption. Treatment will focus on clearing the heat from the liver-gall bladder system and reducing inflammation. The next steps of care are to reduce stress and boost immune function.
  2. Damp Heat – this rash will look more like pus or fluid-filled blisters with a very thin skin. Draining dampness and heat from the body with acupuncture and herbs is indicated.
  3. Qi and Blood stagnation – this is more the sort of long-term infection that can lead to postherpetic neuralgia, and is related to older age and an overall weakened immune system, and is more likely to be compounded by fatigue and poor sleep. Treatment will focus on getting the qi and blood moving freely through the body again.

Your TCM practitioner will also give guidance about the best foods to add or avoid to help relieve shingles inflammation and nerve pain. In general, avoiding spicy foods, seafood, sugar, and alcohol is a good way to start.

In a research study that combined TCM treatment with medication therapy, the patients who received acupuncture had an extremely low incidence of developing PHN, while 30% of the  patients who only received drug therapy ended up with some form of neuralgia and pain still present after three months. The people who had acupuncture healed more quickly and reported less need for painkillers, too.

Another study compared patients treated for shingles with a TCM protocol of acupuncture, herbs and moxibustion only, versus patients treated with antiviral pills, topical creams, and pain relievers. The patients who had acupuncture had a significantly higher overall effectiveness rate (97.7%) compared to the group taking medications (81.8%), with efficacy defined by resolution of pain and clearing of the shingles rash.

Acupuncture Near Me for Shingles 

Acupuncture and herbs can be used safely, alone or as an adjunct therapy, to hasten healing of a herpes zoster rash and to prevent long-term nerve damage and pain due to neuralgia. TCM treatment can also work on the other, subtler symptoms of shingles, like headache and stomach upset, without the need for additional medications. Building the immune system back up, helping to repair and prevent nerve damage, and reversing the effects of stress that can trigger a shingles outbreak are other benefits of seeking acupuncture near me for shingles relief and recovery.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

 

 

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Chinese New Year 2021 Year of the Ox

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

metal ox
2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox

The Chinese New Year celebration will begin on February 12, 2021 this upcoming year. Throughout Asia, the start of the new year according to the lunar calendar is the most exuberant holiday, the time when families gather together to give gifts, eat special foods, honor long-held traditions, and show their love for one another. All around the world, the 2021 New Year holidays will look different, and many families will have to share their New Year greetings from afar. However, the new energy of the Metal Ox, according to Chinese Astrology, offers a way to view our situation with hope and purpose.

In Western astrology, your sun sign derives from the time of the year and place where you were born; whereas in Chinese Astrology, people who share an entire birth year also share a birth sign. The Chinese Astrological calendar runs through a twelve-year cycle. 

The Ox is the second of the Chinese zodiac animals, following the Rat, who has been representative of 2020. (Looking back, we can see how the Rat’s frantic energy led to multiplying numbers, and tendencies to hoard.) Like this past year, ruled by the Metal Rat, the Ox is still influenced by the Metal element, which brings strength and steely resolve, but also rigidity, and a tendency to try to do things alone. The Ox, also known as the Cow, is all about hard work and persistence, so the Metal energy is complementary at a time when people, as individuals and as a global community, must work through intense difficulties with the ultimate diligence. 

In TCM, the Metal element is considered to be connected in particular to the lungs and respiratory system. It cannot be overemphasized; top priority for the upcoming year must be taking care of your health, protecting and strengthening your Wei Qi (the Qi that helps prevent colds and flus), and getting plenty of rest. If you do not already have a regular practice of deep breathing and meditation in place, now is the time to begin. 

Metal Ox, sometimes thought of as “Gold Ox,” or “Iron Ox,” is good at developing relationships, but does so with total, and sometimes brutal, honesty. She will demand truth and righteousness from others, too. In 2021, we have an opportunity to find new ways to build community even as we contemplate a world that feels more isolating than ever. 

The metal Ox cannot be manipulated, but will charge straight ahead to tackle obstacles. Ox is ready to be tested; in fact, she relishes the chance to prove herself. On the other hand, Ox can be stubborn and unwilling to listen to alternative ideas that might call for a change of plans. Metal Ox is ready to put in the hard work, not because she seeks reward or accolades, but because without consistent effort, she knows nothing will get done or change. The overall energy of the Metal Cow is Yin, and associated with the cold months of Winter, when seeds and bulbs are buried underground, waiting and developing in quiet darkness. 

Chinese Astrology, like Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Chinese philosophy in general, views the world through microcosm and macrocosm. That is, we see the entire universe represented in every living creature; and each individual, by creating harmony within, can help to create harmony in the universe as a whole. As we move into 2021, it feels especially necessary that we all take care of our bodies, our families, our communities, and by doing so, we extend that sense of taking care out to the whole world.

Top 3 Tips for Good Luck in the New Year

wearing red is good luck
In Chinese culture, wearing red is thought to bring good luck.

Are you an Ox? If so, this year is your “ben ming nian!” Literally translated as the “year of original destiny,” this is the term for when it is “your year;” in other words, the Zodiac sign matches that of the year you were born. It is generally believed that your ben ming nian can be a tumultuous year with a lot of ups and downs. People who want to ensure good luck during their Zodiac Year practice these habits for good fortune:

  1. Wearing Red – the color red is believed to chase away bad luck, so wearing even a little bit of red – red socks, red underwear – daily is advisable when it is your ben ming nian. However, there is one important point to remember; the red item must be given to you as a gift–not something you buy for yourself. So, now you know what to put on your holiday wish list if you’re an Ox: red accessories!
  2. Carry or Wear Jade – jade also has protective qualities, and is believed to help bring peace, harmony, and abundance to the wearer. It is common to see people always wearing a favorite pendant or bracelet made of jade. 
  3. Avoid Facing “Tai Sui” – In Chinese Astrology, Tai Sui is a star that opposes Jupiter in the sky, and represents the “God of Age.” Some signs, including the ben ming nian, are in conflict with Tai Sui each year. Feng Shui principles give instructions as to how people who need to avoid “offending” Tai Sui can arrange their furniture so as not to cause unfortunate clashes.

Whatever your sign, the New Year is always a time to clean the house thoroughly, settle all accounts, and get organized so that the beginning of the year truly represents a fresh start.

Find Your Sign in Chinese Astrology

Chinese New Year red lanterns and door sign
Red lanterns and door signs signify the Chinese New Year holiday.

Because your Chinese sign is determined by the Lunar calendar, be sure to check the exact dates of your birth year. People born in January or February may belong to the former or later year.

  • Ox 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 
  • Tiger 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 
  • Rabbit 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011 
  • Dragon 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012 
  • Snake 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013 
  • Horse 1942, 1954,1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014 
  • Goat 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015 
  • Monkey 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016 
  • Rooster 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 
  • Dog 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018 
  • Pig 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019
  • Rat 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 

Seeds for the New Year Grow Into Conversations

At New Year’s parties–indeed, at any sort of gathering–you are bound to see a big bowl of unshelled sunflower seeds on the table. In China, people have been preparing seeds to be eaten as a shared snack for centuries. During the Yuan Dynasty (13th-14th century), people would stir-fry and eat melon seeds. Even though nowadays people almost always eat sunflower seeds instead, the common phrase for doing so in Chinese, 吃瓜, is still translated literally as “eating melon seeds,” or even simply “eating watermelon.” This phrase can also mean “gossiping,” because people love to nibble on the seeds while they chat with their friends and relatives.  

sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are a traditional snack for get-togethers.

Traditionally, the seeds are cooked inside their shells, and the shells are left on, which helps them stay fresh longer (about six months), but it also means that they take longer to eat. This is why the habit naturally accompanies long, leisurely talks with friends and family. You can sit for hours, cracking the seed casings open with your teeth one by one, enjoying an activity that occupies your hands and mouth, without actually eating too many seeds.

According to TCM nutrition guidelines, sunflower seeds belong to the category of bitter foods, and are fairly neutral, in terms of yin and yang energies. Baking or frying seeds adds more heat energy, while boiling helps preserve the nutrients better. Sunflower seeds are high in fat, which is what makes them so tasty, so do be sure to enjoy them in moderation, with only a light sprinkling of salt, and lots of good, easy-going conversation!

Best Wishes From All of Us at Art of Wellness

There are many ways to wish friends and loved ones a Happy New Year in Chinese. This year, we want to say to all of our patients and friends: 祝财运亨通 Zhù cáiyùn hēngtōng! I want to wish you longevity and health! 

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Allergy With Acupuncture and TCM

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seasonal allergies
seasonal allergies are caused by pollens and other substances

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D., & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Sinus congestion, runny nose, watery eyes? Itchy skin problem or rashes? It may be seasonal allergies, or an allergic reaction to some specific food or chemical. Acupuncture and TCM herbs can not only help to relieve allergy symptoms, but help to strengthen the body’s immune defenses, so that it is less vulnerable to allergens in the environment.

An allergy is when your immune system produces an antibody response to some substance; it could be a reaction to a plant pollen, an insect venom, a chemical in the air, or some type of food. The body is perceiving the foreign substance as a threat and manufactures antibodies to fight against it. A runny nose (rhinitis), watery eyes, itches in different parts of the head and body, and sneezing are the body’s way of trying to throw off the triggering allergens. Allergies can also cause asthma, which is when the body reacts to triggers with inflammation in the lungs and bronchial tubes, leading to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

At least 50 million Americans experience some form of allergy symptoms every year, and the number is growing. The ever-increasing amounts of food additives, chemical pollutants, and other triggers in the environment are causing more and more people of all ages to develop allergies.  TCM and Acupuncture have been recognized for a while by the WHO as helpful modalities to relieve respiratory illnesses, including seasonal allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis,  and allergy-related asthma.

Top 5 Types of Allergies

itchy eyes and runny nose
itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose are common symptoms of seasonal allergies

Different types of allergies create a variety of symptoms. Seasonal allergies only show up at certain times of the year, when a particular pollen or other natural trigger is abundant, while chronic allergies can flare up at any time.

  1. Pollen Allergies – these are often referred to as “seasonal allergies,” or “hay fever,” and are triggered by natural pollens given off by trees, weeds, grass, and flowers or mold spores, pet dander. These types of allergy cause sneezing and runny nose (rhinitis) and eye allergies, or itchy, watering eyes.
  2. Insect Allergies – these can refer to the types of acute allergic reactions people have to bug bites (mosquito bites or spider bites) or stings from bees or wasps. It can also refer to respiratory or skin reactions to exposure to dust mites or cockroaches in the home environment.
  3. Skin Allergies – these include acute skin allergies like the hives or rashes caused by poison ivy or poison oak. They also include skin reactions to latex. Eczema is a more chronic skin allergy condition, where inflammation causes itchy patches of skin that can become very dry and scaly. Eczema often starts in childhood. Flare-ups can happen due to external irritants, like certain soaps or detergents, fabrics, ingredients in topical ointments or lotions, or smoke in the air. Stress is also a contributing factor to eczema.
  4. Food Allergies – food allergies are especially common in children, with over 5% of children in the U.S. diagnosed in recent years. Certain types of nuts, dairy, soy, wheat, and shellfish are the most common food allergens. In some cases, food allergies are so severe that exposure can lead to a life-threatening reaction of anaphylaxis, an emergency situation in which blood pressure can slow down dramatically, and a person may have severe difficulty breathing. Every year, 200,000 people seek emergency medical care for a severe food allergy reaction.
  5. Drug Allergy – many people have allergic reactions to certain types of medication, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, ACE inhibitors, anti-seizure medications, and even aspirin. The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to medication are: hives or rash, fever, stomach upset, or asthma-like wheezing. A severe drug allergy can also cause anaphylaxis.

Allergy treatment first involves finding out exactly what allergens will potentially cause a reaction. Allergy testing helps determine what, specifically, is triggering the symptoms. Then, a person is encouraged to avoid this trigger as best they can. Many people try over the counter antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays to help manage their allergy symptoms. For more severe allergies, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids in spray, pill, or ointment formulations. Epinephrine injections are necessary to stop severe reactions and prevent anaphylactic shock.

Immunotherapy is an option for some people with a chronic allergic condition. A small amount of the allergen is introduced into the body either via injection (allergy shots) or in a sublingual (under the tongue) form. These can help people build us a better resistance to the allergy trigger over time.

How Can Acupuncture Help Seasonal Allergies?

Modern medical science has made many recent advances in understanding of the human body’s immune system. It is highly complex, and there is still much to learn. In TCM, we have for many centuries been aware of and observed what we call “Wei Qi,” which essentially means protective energy. 

herbs for allergies
Chinese herbs can help relieve and prevent allergic reactions

TCM always acknowledges dualities and the relationship between opposing and coordinating forces. In every case, we look for internal factors and external factors that are affecting the health of the person. In TCM, the immune system has both internal and external components. The external Wei Qi is a protective force that functions as a shield, blocking external pathogens like wind, dampness, and cold, from entering into the body. The lungs provide the energy to keep Wei Qi strong and especially to keep pathogens from entering through the nose and mouth. However, when Wei Qi is weak, it becomes easy for Wind to enter the head and bring with it other external pathogens, like cold, heat, dampness, or dryness. 

According to TCM, a person who suffers from allergies generally has a deficiency of Wei Qi, making them more susceptible to invasions of Wind. Acupuncture treatment might focus, for example, on strengthening the lungs and spleen, which helps to build the Wei Qi back up. Herbal remedies can both relieve hay fever symptoms and rhinitis, and help to tonify the Wei Qi, so that allergic reactions will lessen over time. 

One trial found that people were able to reduce their use of allergy medication after an eight-week course of acupuncture treatment for allergies. Another research study found that patients in a control group who received acupuncture reported better control of allergy symptoms during pollen season, with less reliance on antihistamines.

TCM and Acupuncture for Food Allergy

Recent research supports the efficacy of TCM herbs for helping to prevent severe reactions in people who suffer from food allergies. A specific formulation of eight Chinese herbs has been shown to be helpful for reducing the incidence of anaphylaxis in people with various types of food allergies, including milk, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and fruits. Herbal creams and herb bath preparations can also help prevent severe reactions, when used consistently for a course of treatment. 

An acupuncture practitioner will also use their wide knowledge of nutrition to help patients with food sensitivities and food intolerance manage their diet. Often, when dealing with allergies and sensitivities, it can be challenging to find what needs to be eliminated, as it is not always immediately obvious to a person which foods or other environmental factors are involved in creating the uncomfortable symptoms. A TCM doctor will spend time looking carefully at all of the lifestyle behaviors involved and make appropriate recommendations to help remove hidden triggers.

Top 3 Tips to Help Allergies Naturally

Getting regular acupuncture “tune-ups” is one great, natural way to help relieve allergies. Here are some other ideas you can put into practice to help rid your home and work environment of potential allergens.

  1. Air Filter – a good-quality HEPA filter will remove particles of pollen, dust, and pet dander from the ambient air. This works best if you also make sure to keep the windows and doors closed when you suspect pollen is heavy in the air outside.
  2. Probiotics – a recent systematic review showed that taking probiotics can help reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Probiotics help balance gut flora, which we now know is vital to proper immune functioning and prevention of inflammation.
  3. Wash Your Hands – Manage allergens that come home with you by washing your hands and putting your clothes in the laundry as soon as you get home.

Acupuncture Near Me for Allergy Relief

Seasonal allergies, food allergies, and allergies to chemicals and medication are all on the rise. While people are able to get some relief from conventional medications, TCM treatment offers a viable alternative without the possible side effects of these medicines. Acupuncture can help reduce the need for emergency treatment for severe allergic reactions, and also help prevent hay fever from recurring, year after year. Partner with an acupuncturist near me for allergy treatment now to ensure that when allergy season rolls around again, you are prepared with a strong defense. 

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Hyperthyroidism With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D., & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Thyroid problem or menopause?
Thyroid problems or menopause?

Changes in mood, appetite, hair, and skin?  Wondering whether these could be signs of menopause; or could it be a thyroid problem? The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often similar to what we think of as typical signs of menopause. Acupuncture treatment has been shown to be effective at helping to manage many types of endocrine system conditions, including hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hyperthyroidism, sometimes called “overactive thyroid,” refers to a set of various disorders in which the thyroid gland produces excess hormones. This leads to thyrotoxicosis, a condition in which there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. Sometimes this is indicated by a visible swelling of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck, known as a “goiter.”

Thyroid disorders are much more common in women than in men, and they often develop in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. However, people of any age can show signs of hyperthyroidism. In older adults, the symptoms of an overactive thyroid can be subtle, and easily confused with those of other hormonal imbalance conditions such as perimenopause symptoms and diabetes. It can often be difficult and take years for patients to be diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, and then to find the right treatment to solve their problem. Hyperthyroidism can have different root causes, and treating it effectively requires finding the correct source of the problem.

It is important to address thyroid problems because hyperthyroidism increases the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. There is some evidence that people with Graves’ disease are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancers. Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe and effective alternative or adjunct treatment for all kinds of thyroid disorders. The TCM approach can help correct the symptoms of excess thyroid hormone by restoring balance at the source of the problem.

Top 5 Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Several different factors can lead to enlargement or inflammation of the thyroid and the overproduction and output of thyroid hormones. Some causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Hyperthyroidism can develop due to nodules or a multinodular goiter on the thyroid gland, which causes it to secrete extra hormones. 
  • Thyroiditis, swelling of the thyroid gland, can linger after a viral infection. Some thyroid problems are caused by autoimmune disorders. 
  • Graves’ disease causes antibodies to mistakenly attack the tissue of the thyroid, causing inflammation and overproduction of thyroid hormones. 
  • The thyroid gland uses the mineral iodine to make thyroid hormones, so sometimes hyperthyroidism is linked with too much iodine in the diet, often due to the use of certain supplements. 
  • Sometimes people are prescribed hormone replacement medications, and taking too much of them leads to hyperthyroidism.

Hashimoto disease also attacks the thyroid gland, but in that case, it causes the thyroid to stop producing enough hormones, leading to hypothyroidism. 

Top 10 Signs of an Overactive Thyroid

check front of neck for enlarged thyroid goiter
Check your neck for signs of an enlarged thyroid

The thyroid gland is located on the lower front of the neck, beneath the larynx, or voice box. Check for signs of swelling that might indicate an enlarged thyroid (goitres) by watching in a mirror as you tilt your head back slightly and swallow a mouthful of water. If you notice any bulging, have it checked by a doctor.

Other signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  1. Nervousness or anxiety, a “hyperactive” restless feeling
  2. Fast or irregular heart rate
  3. Irritability
  4. Unexplained weight loss, constant thirst and hunger
  5. Having to urinate frequently and/or loose bowels
  6. Difficulty sleeping
  7. Itchiness or “twitching” 
  8. Sensitivity to temperatures, excessive sweating, red hands
  9. Swelling in the neck
  10. Loss of libido

As you can see, many of these are often associated with menopausal symptoms: feeling hot and sweaty (hot flashes), low libido (vaginal atrophy or dryness), irritability/sensitivity, sleep problems, etc. 

When hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder, there is often noticeable bulging or protrusion of the eyes. This is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy, Graves’ eye disease, or Thyroid Eye Disease (TED). This happens because some of the tissues around the eye are chemically similar to those of the thyroid gland, and the immune system is attacking those cells, resulting in inflammation around the eye. This can cause blurry vision, dryness because the lids can’t close fully over the eyeball, and headaches because of pressure behind the eyes. Changes in hair texture or loss of hair are another sign of Graves’ disease.

Hormone Testing for Thyroid Problems

The endocrine system is very complex and relies upon the harmonious functioning of several different endocrine glands producing hormones that work in concert to maintain stability of a person’s whole life process: waking, sleeping, self-regulating temperature, eating and digesting, and many other more subtle processes. The proper working of the thyroid gland is in close relationship with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, both located in the brain.

The thyroid gland produces various hormones which have to do with growth, metabolism, and reproduction, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The pituitary gland produces TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which triggers production of the thyroid hormones T4, T3, and others. Thus the pituitary gland is responsible for gauging how much thyroid hormone is flowing through the body in the bloodstream, and making adjustments as necessary. 

When a thyroid problem is suspected, the first kind of testing done is usually a TSH blood test. A TSH test showing a high TSH level would suggest that thyroid hormone levels are low, and that the pituitary gland is making more TSH to try to stimulate production, while a low TSH would indicate that the thyroid may be producing too much hormone, and the pituitary gland is trying to slow down production. Either kind of abnormal TSH level might lead to more specific testing to determine levels of T4, “free T4 (FT4),” or T3.

Medical treatment for hyperactive thyroid depends on what is causing the problem. If the thyroid is producing too much hormone “autonomously,” that is, if there are normal TSH levels and the pituitary gland seems to be functioning, then radioactive iodine is usually employed to bring down the thyroid hormone levels. When the problem is an autoimmune problem, as in Graves’ disease, a course of “anti-thyroid” medication, such as thiamazole, may bring the hormone levels back to normal. An enlarged thyroid gland may indicate a surgical solution.

Can Acupuncture Help Thyroid Problems?

dry itchy eyes
Dry, itchy eyes and skin can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder

In TCM philosophy, most disease stems from imbalances in the key energies of the body and spirit. “Qi” a life force energy that flows along pathways through the body called “meridians,” must be kept strong and flowing freely; if Qi is weak, or the meridians are blocked, certain organs will not get the nourishment they need, and illness will result. Yin and Yang are two energies that work together in opposition to maintain balance, like a scale. If either Yin or Yang becomes dominant, the other one becomes weaker, and there will be problems of “deficiency” and/or “excess.”

In the case of an overactive thyroid, the constant striving of Yang energy creates a deficiency of Yin, and the overall Qi energy is also weakened. The hyperactive energy of hyperthyroidism is interpreted through TCM as being related to heat, and especially too much fiery energy from the liver. We view blockages as being related to stagnation of Qi, or blood, or phlegm. In this case, phlegm stagnation is impeding the flow to and from the thyroid gland.

  • Liver heat causes symptoms like: redness of the skin, itchiness, irritability, hunger and high metabolism, and a quickened pulse. 
  • Weakness of Qi and Yin causes: trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, sweating, and dryness of the eyes and mouth. 
  • Phlegm stagnation is considered the reason for the swelling of the thyroid gland itself.

TCM treatment for hyperthyroidism uses acupuncture and individualized herbal formulations to clear heat and phlegm, strengthen Qi and Yin, and cool down liver fire and overworked Yang.

One study showed improvement in hyperthyroid symptoms of over 88% of patients after having received a course of acupuncture, with some patients making full recoveries. A study that focused on the use of a specific Chinese herb formulation in addition to methimazole medication for patients with Graves’ disease concluded that TCM herbs were effective as an adjunct treatment for helping to bring FT3, FT4, and TSH levels back to normal.

Acupuncture Near Me for Hyperthyroidism

Disorders of the thyroid and the endocrine system in general, especially those that are related to autoimmune disorders, can be very challenging to manage. At Art of Wellness, we have over 30 years of experience dealing with all types of hormone imbalances. The TCM approach offers a highly personalized course of treatment for hyperthyroidism, which can be a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine. If you or someone you know suspects they may have an overactive thyroid, consider consulting with a qualified acupuncturist as part of your health care plan.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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