By Maegan N. Hodge, L.Ac.

It’s that time of year again! The trees are starting to bud out, and bulbs are coming out of the ground (never mind the periodic snows we were still getting in Richmond in mid-March this year). Folks are already pouring in to the office with the beginnings of their seasonal allergy symptoms. Have you considered getting acupuncture for allergies?

From the physiological perspective, one has to consider many factors in the treatment of allergies including the respiratory system, the liver, and the digestion/diet. To expand upon this idea very simply, allergies happen because exposure to allergens release histamine in the body, which can express primarily in the skin or the respiratory tract, and can also cause headache, feeling fuzzy-headed, and fatigue. Histamine is broken down, or detoxed, in the liver. If liver detox is at all sluggish, which is very common and can be caused by genetics, poor diet, exposure to drugs, toxins, etc., histamine can build up excessively, thereby worsening the allergic response. So you can see how addressing lifestyle and underlying factors, which contribute to building histamine levels, can be just as important as simply reducing symptoms.

Chinese medicine (CM)has much to say on the subject of allergic reactivity, but its treatment of allergies depends on how exactly the allergies are presenting, as well as overall patterns present in your physiology that influence your prognosis and treatment plan. The approach is always custom tailored for each patient. Many patients come to our clinic to get acupuncture for allergies – and get very impressive results.

Some of the most common CM diagnosis categories for allergies are the following:

Allergies due to Wind Cold
Allergies due to Lung Qi Deficiency
Allergies due to Lung & Spleen Deficiency
Allergies due to Kidney Deficiency

These sound strange at first to a lay person, but stick with it while we examine these categories a little more deeply. Each name like “Wind Cold” is really describing a set of symptoms that comes about from different types of body physiology. You may be surprised to find one of the categories describing you!

Allergies due to Wind Cold

This is typically an acute, recent onset type of presentation. An exterior element has entered the body and upset subtle “qi” dynamics, and now there are symptoms. Primary symptoms can include sneezing, nasal itching, a runny nose with profuse, thin, watery discharge, or swollen, obstructed nasal passages. Secondary symptoms include reduced sense of smell, irritated and watery eyes, and sinus headaches. The tongue looks normal or may have a thin white coating.

This is a story I hear a lot from folks who have just moved to the Richmond, Virginia area. “I never had allergies until I moved to Richmond a year ago…” The basic idea here is that a person is simply inundated by an external assault to the immune system. The good news is that this presentation typically responds quickly to a relatively brief course of treatment. Any herbal medicines prescribed for acute attacks should be stopped as soon as symptoms are relieved.

Allergies due to Lung Qi Deficiency

If the lining of the respiratory tract is not properly nourished and protected by what in CM is referred to as “wei qi”, inhaled particulate may induce sneezing and congestion, among other things. In this pattern, the immune system is somewhat more prone to insult, yet can be more over-reactive than in a Wind Cold pattern.

Primary symptoms can include recurrent episodes of violent sneezing fits, nasal itching, a runny nose with profuse, thin, watery mucus, frequent colds (2-3 per season), reduced sense of smell, a soft voice, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweating, and a pale complexion. Symptoms tend to be worse with exposure to wind and/or cold. In some instances the allergy can manifest concurrently with (or instead) as eczema or asthma. The tongue tends to be pale with a thin white coating.

Because this condition reflects a deficient state of the constitution, treatment often needs to be somewhat more prolonged than the Wind Cold type of allergies.

Allergies due to Lung & Spleen Deficiency

This condition can be seen in both children and adults, and is often a consequence of an unbalanced diet. In modern day life, this often looks like the “Standard American Diet”, fad diets, or avoiding certain food groups (fats, carbs, etc.) for various reasons, or not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Symptoms can include recurring periods of severe nasal congestion or unrelenting runny nose with profuse, thin, watery mucus, swollen nasal mucosa that is pale or ashen, possible nasal polyps, sneezing, nasal itching, reduced sense of smell, a feeling of heaviness or fullness in the head, low energy/listlessness, poor appetite/picky eater, poor digestion, loose stools, diarrhea after heavy meals, or limbs feel tired or weak. Symptoms may be seasonal, or year-round. The tongue tends to be pale and swollen with tooth marks, and has a white coating.

This pattern typically responds well to treatment, though would also take longer to treat than a Wind Cold pattern. Dietary changes are typically paramount.

Allergies due to Kidney Deficiency

Kidney deficiency patterns are somewhat more complex, in that there are several subtypes, and represent the most progressed, chronic states of imbalance. A Kidney deficiency pattern often begins in childhood, and its sufferers may also be susceptible to eczema and asthma. This pattern can also arise from one of the previously mentioned patterns well into adulthood.

Primary symptoms of allergies due to Kidney deficiency are years of annual or seasonal nasal itching, congestion, sneezing, thin, clear nasal mucus all of which are worse when fatigued, in the mornings and evenings, and even after sexual intercourse. Other symptoms include reduced sense of smell, and pale, wet, swollen nasal mucosa.

As this is the most chronic presentation, extended treatment of 1 year or more is often necessary.

As previously mentioned there are several subtypes.

Kidney Yin Deficiency

In addition to the above “primary” symptoms, this pattern may include intolerance to cold with worsening of symptoms after prolonged exposure to cold, a weak/painful lower back and knees, low libido or reduced sexual function, frequent urination especially at night or edema with scant urination, lethargy, and a very pallid appearance. The tongue is swollen and pale.

Kidney Yang Deficiency

In addition to the above “primary” symptoms, this pattern may include insomnia, hot palms/soles of the feet, night sweats, flushes of heat especially in the face or upper body, dizziness and tinnitus (usually low pitched). The tongue tends to be red and dry with little to no coat.

Kidney Jing Deficiency

In addition to the above “primary” symptoms, this pattern may include sore or weak low back and knees, low libido and sexual function, poor memory, hair greying or loss and dental or bone problems. This presentation does not tend to include the hot or cold symptoms listed above.

The above presentations are not the only potential CM diagnosis categories for allergies – they are simply the most common. Whether you have been suffering for years, or have only recently been afflicted, Chinese herbs and acupuncture for allergies can go far in reducing symptoms and allowing you to enjoy the spring season as the wonderful time of year it truly is.

If you are looking for help, and would like to find out if you are a good candidate for services, we offer COMPLIMENTARY consultations. You have absolutely nothing to lose.