Monday, April 15, 2013

Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine

There's nothing like seasonal allergies to dampen your enjoyment of springtime. Fortunately, research has shown, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can safely and effectively prevent and relieve allergy symptoms.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies are overreactions of the immune system to normally harmless substances in the environment, such as dust, pollen, animal dander and foods. When an allergic person's immune system is triggered by an allergen, it causes inflammation, which is the body's attempt to eject this substance from the system. The severity of an allergic reaction can vary from simple eye itching, sneezing, and runny nose; to skin reactions such as eczema or hives; to even life-threatening constriction of the airways.

Increasing numbers of people suffer from allergies. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis, for example, is now estimated to be between 10 and 20% in developed countries. Allergic rhinitis and mild allergy symptoms are usually treated with antihistamine or decongestant medicines and sometimes with steroid medicines. These often cause unwanted and even harmful side effects, and do not address the root causes of the condition.

How & Why Do Allergies Develop?

Allergies are your body's reaction to allergens (particle your body considers foreign), a sign that your immune system is working overtime. The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release IgE (immunoglobulin E), an antibody specific to that allergen. IgE attaches to the surface of your mast cells.

Mast cells are found in great numbers in your surface tissues (i.e., those with close proximity to the external environment, such as in your skin and in the mucous membranes of your nose) and in the digestive tract, where they help mediate inflammatory responses. Mast cells release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which is histamine.

So, the second time your body encounters a particular allergen, within a few minutes, your mast cells become activated and release a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of symptoms you associate with allergies: sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, cough, itchy eyes, etc.

Histamine can cause your airways to constrict, like asthma, or cause blood vessels to become more permeable, leading to fluid leakage or hives. Leukotrienes cause hypersecretion of mucous, which you commonly experience as a runny nose or increased phlegm. 

Pollen is an extremely common mast cell activator, but other agents can trigger these processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants  dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products and foods can all cause allergic reactions. Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven't reacted to something in the past doesn't mean you won't react to it in the future --- you can become desensitized at any point in time.

Traditional Chinese Medicine View of Allergies

Acute Symptoms:
Several Chinese medicine patterns of disharmony may be involved in cases of allergies. Wind is always part of the diagnosis. Typical of patterns involving wind, allergy symptoms often occur without warning. Wind usually combines with another pathogenic influence in wind-dampness, wind-cold, or wind-heat. Wind-dampness produces symptoms like sneezing, itching sensation in eyes and throat, a heavy sensation in the head and copious mucous. If cold is involved as a pathogenic factor, there maybe runny nose, clear mucous, headache and stiff neck and back. Heat involvement will produce red, itchy eyes; thick, yellow mucous; and maybe a headache.

Underlying Imbalances:
Typically, an underlying weakness, often a deficiency of Lung and Spleen Qi, makes people with allergies susceptible to allergic reactions. Lung Qi is responsible for the proper function of the entire respiratory tract, including the nasal passages. Spleen Qi controls the transport of fluids in the body. When the Spleen is impaired, weakening digestive function, it can lead to an overproduction of mucous, which tends to collect in the lungs.

The goal of the acupuncturist is to develop a plan which relieves the patient's acute symptoms, while addressing the immune system imbalance at the root of the person's allergy problems.

Treatment with Chinese Herbs

Acute Symptoms:
The primary treatment strategy to alleviate allergy symptoms is to repel wind with herbs that are spicy and dispersing in nature. Some of the most popular wind-herbs are Japanese catnip, or Schizonepeta tenuifolie (jing jie) and Siler divaricata (fang feng.) Household herbs like scallions & ginger root (for wind-cold) and peppermint leaf and chrysanthemum flower (for wind-heat) also help repel wind from the body, but not as effectively as fang feng & jing jie.

A TCM herbalist will customize each formula to meet each patient's individual needs. For example, magnolia buds (xin yi hua) and xanthium fuit (cang er zi) are common herbs used to open stuffed nasal passages. Chrysanthemum flowers (ju hua) and cassia seeds (jue ming zi) can be added to sooth itchy eyes. Perilla seeds (zi su zi) or platycodon (jie geng) can alleviate chest tightness, open the bronchioles, alleviate cough and wheezing and clear phlegm from the lungs.

The weakness of Qi underlying seasonal allergies is treated with herbs that bolster Lung and Spleen function, such as codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), and honey-roasted licorice (zhi gan cao).

A classic formula for toning the immune system is Jade Windscreen (yu ping feng san), containing two herbs to bolster Lung and Spleen--astragalus root (huang qi) and atractylodes (bai zhu)-- and one herb to repel wind--siler (fang feng).

Another useful formula for allergy prevention is Six Gentlemen Decocotion (liu jun zi tang). This formula bolsters the Spleen and Lung AND contains to medicinals, pinellia (ban xia) and aged citrus peel (chen pi), which enhance the base formula's ability to clear mucous and dry dampness.

Again, a TCM herbalist will customize each formula to meet a patient's individual needs.

Treatment with Acupuncture

Acupuncture frequently relieves allergy symptoms immediately. Treatment plans for allergies vary, and the possible results range from temporary relief to complete remission. Gentle manipulation of points around the nose, such as Yintang, Bitong and Large Intestine 20, with massage or very fine needles, usually relieve nasal congestion and sneezing as soon as the needles are inserted. Points on the chest can open the bronchioles, alleviate chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and postnasal drip. Points on the arms and legs are often used to bolster Spleen and Lung Qi, addressing weaknesses underlying propensity to allergies.

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