Hello out there, lovely readers. Spring is upon us, and that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite seasonal arrival- spring allergies! We had a very mild winter here in New England, which means that the allergy season is starting even earlier than normal. I’ve been seeing people sniffling for the last two weeks, which is super early. The last two years have been just miserable for allergies, and this year looks to not be so great either. The last two spring allergy seasons were so bad because of the multiple occurrences of the polar vortex (which apparently causes trees and grass to dump all of their pollen in a massive end-of-days apocalyptic fear). This year is just going to be unpleasant because things are blossoming early, which means there is more pollen to go around! Whee!!
So what’s one to do with this abundance of seasonal allergens? Well, you can find out what Chinese medicine can do to help out with those pesky sniffles, runny noses, itchy eyes, and scratchy throats, of course!
In Chinese medicine, seasonal allergies have a couple different etiologies (I know, another shocking case where TCM diagnostics are complicated…all part of the fun of this system!). Spring allergies are often associated with the element of wind. People may become susceptible to these wind-borne pathogens because of a deficiency of spleen or lung qi (and remember, using organ pathologies in Chinese medicine doesn’t mean there’s a problem with your actual insides- it’s just a way of conceptualizing body functions). When the spleen and/or lung qi is deficient, the body’s wei qi ceases to work as well as it should. What on earth is wei qi, you might ask? Excellent question.
Wei qi is the protective qi that surrounds the outer parts of our body to protect us from pathogens trying to sneak in and cause disease. Think of wei qi as Saran wrap, lightly covering everything and preventing things that shouldn’t be coming in from entering into the body (didn’t know you had so much in common with leftovers, did you? I am a literal fountain of knowledge!).
When this wei qi is weak, unruly little things like allergens sneak into the body and cause unpleasant things- those allergy symptoms that make you curse every flower you see.
So what is one to do? Chinese medicine treatments take a multi-faceted approach. First and foremost, we work on alleviating the major symptoms to get you feeling better fast. There are a number of acupuncture points surrounding the nose, eyes, and sinuses that can help relieve itchy eyes and runny noses. Some people get a little nervous about needles in the face, but we use very small needles for these points, and honestly, the benefits usually way outweigh any hesitations people have. Plus, when I get to put needles on the side of your nose, you look like an adorable cat with whiskers, and it makes me very happy!
We also work on correcting the underlying deficiency- tonifying spleen and lung qi to strengthen wei qi in order to prevent further allergy symptoms from developing.
Lastly, we can also use herbal remedies much like our acupuncture treatments to both help with symptoms of allergies and prevent them from occurring again in the future.
There are some things that you can do at home to help minimize your symptoms as well. Avoiding all pollen in the spring is impossible, unless you can build yourself a hamster-ball like contraption from which to view the world. But there are plenty of things you can do to make things less miserable. Firstly, try to keep your home as allergen-free as possible. If you’re outside working in the yard or garden, wipe off quickly before you come in the house and then go right into the shower. The more pollen you bring into the house, the longer you’re exposed to the allergens. This goes for pets, too. Dogs are essentially walking allergen traps- if your dog is anything like my furry moron, rolling around in grass and flowers is a delight on parallel with a stay at a four-star spa. Give them a quick wipe with a damp towel before they come inside (especially if said furry friends hang out in your bedroom…you want to keep that space as pollen free as possible). You can try using a portable air filter to get some of the junk out of the air you’re breathing. This can especially be helpful in the bedroom- remember that you’re breathing in your bedroom air more than any other room in your house, so that’s a big place to reduce allergen exposure. If you have long hair, try to tie it up when you are working outside and/or wear a hat- hair collects pollen and will just increase your exposure. Check your pollen counts on the weather channel/weather app/whatever you use to tell you what it looks like outside. Pollen counts are pretty standard on most weather systems now- if it’s a really high pollen count, it’s maybe not the day to plant your entire garden. Pollen counts tend to be highest around the middle of the day, so early morning or later in the day may be a better time for you to be outside (but again, confirm this with your local pollen count levels).
Lastly, avoid a lot of dairy, refined sugar, and simple carbohydrates if your allergies are bad. These foods all increase dampness in Chinese medicine, which can in turn increase the production of mucus and phlegm that makes your sinuses achy and stuffy.
Hope you have found this helpful, and I am wishing everyone a sneeze-free spring. If you celebrate Easter, I hope you have a great holiday. Until next time, my friends…be well!