Spring is here: Seeds are sprouting; bare branches are starting to show buds; the earth is warming. There is a thrill in the air, perhaps even a lightness to your step.
Spring brings revitalization and new beginnings. It also brings allergies.
For those who suffer from seasonal allergies, spring can feel like a disheartening blur of symptoms: runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and coughing. Allergic rhinitis, an inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages, may lead to sinus infections or sinusitis. Many people don’t know that seasonal allergies also can exacerbate depression, digestive issues, and joint pain.
Rather than temporarily alleviating these symptoms the way allergy medications do, acupuncture addresses the underlying imbalance that’s causing symptoms in the first place—allowing you to enjoy the outdoors all season long.
Two distinct theories on allergies
From a biomedical perspective, when grass, weeds and trees release their pollen, some people react with a heightened immune response. This causes histamine to be released, which leads to inflammation and muscle constriction.
In acupuncture theory, seasonal allergies are not isolated to the histamine response. Rather, they are looked at as a general disruption of a person’s defensive mechanisms.
Instead of accepting the overreactive immune response and suppressing it with antihistamines, acupuncturists ask, why is this person’s immunity compromised?
A common answer to this question is deficient Wei Qi.
Wei Qi is the body’s first line of defense. Derived from essential nutrients from food, water and respiration, Wei Qi helps protect the body against external disease factors such as climactic extremes and microorganisms.
Dispersed by the Lungs through the skin and muscles, Wei Qi warms and nourishes the body’s exterior. Wei Qi circulates through the subcutaneous tissue, opening and closing pores and sweat glands. When Wei Qi is deficient, the body is not fully equipped to handle invading factors like pollen.
How does acupuncture treat allergies?
In acupuncture theory, a person with deficient Wei Qi who develops allergy symptoms after being outside might be treated for Wind invasion. Wind as a pathogenic factor is characterized by sudden onset of symptoms, which include headache, stuffed nasal passages, and itchy throat and eyes.
Acupuncture points would be selected for clearing Wind (symptoms) and bolstering the deficient Wei Qi (underlying imbalance). Depending on the specific symptoms, additional points may be used. An untreated Wind invasion, for example, over time can lead to Heat or Dampness, both of which can compromise sinus function and respiratory health. (Further reading: acupuncture and the environment.)
Constitutional weaknesses of one or more organ systems also may need to be addressed in people with allergies.
The systems that are most commonly involved in chronic allergies are Lung, Kidney and Spleen. Lung is the most surface system in that it tends to be affected by short-term or fleeting circumstances, such as seasons. The Kidneys are important because they are considered the root of Wei Qi. Finally, the Spleen system engenders Wei Qi through the transformation of food into usable nutrients.
Treating the underlying imbalance as well as the symptoms helps to optimize immune function and prevent future infections.
Seasonal allergies are something many people have come to accept as an inevitable part of springtime, a trade off of sorts for the warm weather. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Acupuncture can relieve and prevent seasonal allergies, without negative side effects. So go out and celebrate spring, no strings—or Kleenex—attached.
Photo by Sara Calabro
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