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We can all agree our seasons have blended together this year. While we didn’t have much snow, it stayed cold for a long time. It felt as though winter was never going to leave us. As far as spring . . . well, apparently we skipped over that pretty quickly and have jumped right into summer temperatures. For some people this was a blessing for their allergies, while others have been feeling pretty miserable. Our meteorologists report that the pollen, grass, ragweed, and tree counts are higher and more prolonged this year as a result of the obscure weather changes.

Any allergen, whether environmental or food-related, causes a histamine reaction in the body. The seasonal-allergic response is otherwise known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever. The offensive trigger causes an immune response in the body such as a tickle in the throat, itchy eyes, and, most commonly, a runny, sneezy nose. This is caused by the immune system’s production of lymphocytes and overproduction of Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, as a defense mechanism.

Many of us have been there and have tried various over-the-counter remedies, many of which have side effects that can cause extreme dryness and a pasty mouth, and even initiate a bout of depression. These medications vary from nasal sprays to antihistamines to inhalers and even prolonged-treatment allergy shots.

For people who suffer from asthma, the pollen count can be a dangerous trigger if they are ill-prepared. It is essential for them to have a rescue inhaler on them at all times. The pharmaceutical market for seasonal-allergy products is tremendous. People tend to stock their medicine cabinets with various brands of these products, hoping to have the most effective solution on hand when they are hit hard.

The primary role of allergy medicine is to block the body’s natural immune response to the allergy trigger. From its name antihistamine, we can understand that it attempts to block the histamine reaction, which is our body’s inborn way of fighting the offensive trigger. This is very different from the way that acupuncture and Oriental medicine treat allergies. In many cases, we view the individual as having an immune deficiency that allows him to be so susceptible to the trigger itself.

Treating allergies often takes a two-pronged approach. It is necessary to stop the symptoms themselves, focusing on relieving the eye-itching, the throat tickle, and the dreadful runny, sneezy nose. This is the primary concern of the allergy sufferer, who wants to be able to have a productive day at work or in school. However, in the long term, the individual would be overjoyed to change his body’s reaction permanently. The goal is to eliminate the need to stock their medicine cabinets and frequent the allergy aisle in CVS just to get through the season unhindered.

This is where the second approach is relevant. Acupuncture can build up the immune system, strengthening the various meridians whose deficiency causes the susceptibility in the first place. We would not only stop the typical allergy symptoms but also strengthen the immune response to avoid the response to the trigger in the first place. The over-the-counter remedies focus on treating the symptoms alone, whereas in traditional Chinese medicine, a holistic approach is taken to treat the whole person and strengthen overall immunity.

Wei qi is comparable to what we describe as our immune system. Our bodies have incredible defense mechanisms; the immune system is a built-in coat of armor ready to protect and defend us. When we are at our strongest, it is able to fight for us and win. However, when we are not in our healthiest state–fatigue has set in, we are not sleeping enough, not eating properly or exercising–our immune system falls short. Our wei qi can be weakened and thus allow invaders in.

In most cases, allergy sufferers have weakened lung and kidney meridians. Wind is seen as a vehicle that allows the unwanted invader to enter into our bodies and cause detriment. This is why many allergy sufferers dread windy days and seasonal changes. They often feel dizzy in addition to exhibiting other typical allergy symptoms. It is essential to determine the individual’s particular weakness and strengthen the deficient meridians to boost his wei qi and support his lung and kidney meridians and overall immunity, thus strengthening his coat of armor.

I recently began treating a patient who suffered from chronic allergies. She came into my office a few weeks before the typical allergy season set in. She said she needed to try something different because she couldn’t take another season like those she had endured in the past. Her symptoms were extreme itchiness in the eyes and throat and constant dizziness. It made her so miserable she barely functioned for weeks at a time.

In her case, it was important to begin the treatment before the season began. After only a few visits, she sent me updates on the current pollen counts, which now have no effect on her. She cannot get over how she is symptom-free! She has told her whole family about her relief and only wishes she had tried acupuncture earlier.

We have no control over the bizarre weather that seems to blend our seasons together. However, we are fortunate to have natural means to help us rise above the havoc the seasonal changes wreak on our immune system. Acupuncture is an amazing tool to help get you through allergy season and to strengthen your immunity. Don’t wait another season; you owe it to yourself to begin experiencing the benefits today.