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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.