By Qineng Tan, L.Ac. Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing? These are some of the classic seasonal allergy symptoms, also known as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Acupuncture and TCM herbs can help relieve allergies, including pollen allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergies affect about 20% of Americans. Allergic rhinitis is an immune system reaction to an allergen in the air that can be inhaled, like pollen from budding trees, growing grass, and plants like ragweed. Hay fever is a common term that typically describes being allergic to pollen.
“Pollen” are tiny seeds from plants that can be carried by the wind. When there is lots of pollen in the air, this is called a high pollen count. You can check the pollen count, like a weather report, to see when it is particularly high, and thus may affect people who suffer from seasonal allergies and asthma.
While having an allergic reaction to common airborne allergens happens most often during the spring, summer, and early fall, when plants are giving off a lot of pollen, people can actually experience hay fever at any time of the year.
Similar allergy symptoms can occur due to exposure to dust mites, molds, and pet dander.
Acupuncture and TCM can help relieve the irritating symptoms caused by allergic reactions by helping to strengthen and balance the immune system so that it is not so easily triggered.
Top 10 Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
The body’s histamine response causes inflammation of the mucus membranes in the sinuses and throat. The increased mucus production occurs in order to drive out the offending allergens.
Pollen allergy symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. Signs of hay fever include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose, itchy nose
- Itchy eyes, watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Itchy throat
- Postnasal drip
- Headaches, sinus pain
- Dark circles under eyes, puffy eyes, “allergic shiners”
- Fatigue, malaise, generally feeling under the weather
- Wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing
Skin rash is a less common symptom of seasonal allergies, but some people do develop a hay fever rash. The itchy allergy rash may look similar to hives: raised red welts on the skin.
Treatment for Hay Fever
The common medical treatment for hay fever is an antihistamine. Histamines are chemicals that occur naturally in the body as part of the immune response to allergens in the environment. The release of histamines is what leads to allergy symptoms like a runny nose and itchy eyes.
Antihistamines come in pill or spray form, and they block the histamine response, which can temporarily relieve the hay fever symptoms. However, these medications do have side effects, the most common of which is drowsiness.
If someone is not getting relief from antihistamines, then corticosteroids, or steroids, may be prescribed. These work as anti-inflammatories, which in this case means that they reduce the swelling of mucous membranes. Steroids, too, can have significant side effects, especially when used over a long period of time.
Nasal sprays for allergies, like Flonase or Mucinex, are decongestants that are designed to be sprayed into the nose to help reduce allergy runny nose. Again, these may provide some temporary relief, but people can quickly get used to them, so they stop being effective.
Acupuncture and TCM offer an alternative treatment for allergies that can help relieve hay fever symptoms without side effects.
Can Acupuncture Help Hay Fever?
According to TCM theory, allergies fall under the category of illnesses that are caused by “wind” as a pathogenic force that can invade the body. In the TCM view, hay fever occurs due to wind-heat getting into the lungs.
Weakness of the kidneys and spleen can also contribute to hay fever; when they are sluggish, mucus tends to build up, and we become more easily fatigued.
When the defensive Qi is strong, it can protect us from cold, heat, wind, and dampness getting into the body and causing problems. Defensive Qi is roughly analogous to what we think of as the immune system in conventional medicine.
TCM treatment for allergic rhinitis may include acupuncture, herbal supplements, moxibustion, and nutrition counseling. TCM can be used either as an alternative therapy for allergies, or as an adjunct treatment for hay fever, along with pharmacological treatment.
Chinese herbs have been used for many centuries to treat allergy symptoms. Now, we are able to see scientific evidence that these herbs, such as astragalus, magnolia flower, and licorice root, do actually have an effect on the immune response and histamine function by helping to regulate the production of chemicals like cytotoxic T-cells and immunoglobulin G. Compounds found in scutellaria root have been found to inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines, and stephania root can help prevent anaphylaxis.
With Chinese herbal medicine, we are able to create customized formulas for each patient, depending on their particular presentation of symptoms.
Acupuncture is a highly effective modality for all types of allergies, from allergic rhinitis to atopic dermatitis or eczema, and can help relieve the nasal sinus symptoms that affect the eyes, nose and mouth if someone is allergic to pollen. It can also help reduce itching due to allergic skin rashes.
A clinical trial conducted at a hospital in China showed that a regimen of acupuncture and herbs resulted in over 90% of patients reporting that their nasal symptoms were greatly reduced.
Another published study showed that acupuncture reduced levels of Immunoglobulin-E, an antibody that is associated with allergy responses.
A review of studies of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis showed that this treatment has both short-term and long-term efficacy.
TCM treatment for seasonal allergies allows us to get to the root cause of allergy symptoms and help prevent them from happening. In this way, acupuncture and herbs can function as preventive medicine for hay fever. Getting acupuncture periodically throughout the year can help you avoid allergy attacks when the pollen count is high.
Top 3 Tips for Hay Fever Prevention
Here are some things you can do to help prevent spring hay fever and relieve pollen allergy symptoms:
- Avoid dairy food and cold foods, which promote more mucus production.
- Apply warm compresses to the face to soothe the eyes and nasal area.
- Use an air purifier in your home to keep allergens out of the environment.
To relieve allergies, emphasize more cooked foods that help warm the body.
Acupuncture Near Me for Hay Fever in Los Angeles Area, Santa Monica
The multifaceted approach of TCM makes it uniquely suited to help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. Acupuncture can help reduce hay fever symptoms right away and help prevent allergies from knocking you down every time the pollen count is high. Please do not hesitate to seek relief from hay fever by giving acupuncture 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.