It’s that time of year again. You would like to savor the smell of freshly cut grass and your blooming garden. However, itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat stand in your way. That hay-fever feeling is frustrating; it is difficult to be productive at work or school when you are constantly reaching for tissues. Seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis showed up a little late this year due to a prolonged cold-weather season. The budding of spring flowers was delayed, and the pollen seemed to hold off from wreaking its usual havoc. While we enjoyed the beautiful weather over the Shavuot holiday, it was apparent that allergy season had at last set in.
People often ask me how to distinguish between a cold and an allergy. One of the simplest ways is differentiating between the symptoms. WithÂ a cold, you may have a slight fever and chills and body aches, but this would not be the case with allergies. An even greater indication would be the presence or absence of itchiness. An itchy sensation in your eyes, nose, and throat is usually indicative of an allergy. The itch is the body’s way of trying to expel the allergen or the causative factor. People who are allergic to dust mites or other triggers experience the same symptom.
The body is a wondrous thing; there are autonomic systems at play that work to prevent us from getting sick. They kick into place on their own without any voluntary action on our part. The histamine reaction is our immune response, which automatically fights to prevent an outside element from entering our body and causing greater havoc. Seasonal allergies are caused by a hypersensitive reaction when lymphocytes produce antibodies within the mast cells in the blood in response to the pollen or other airborne particles. The sneezing and itchiness you feel indicate that your body is fighting off a foreign invasion from an allergen trigger.
Many people reach for allergy medication, using the dual approach of a nasal saline mist and an antihistamine. This approach will work to open the nasal passages, while at the same time drying out the nasal mucosa so that the nasal drip slows down or stops. The benefits may be short-lived though. The typical unpleasant side effects are nasal irritation with prolonged use, as well as severe dry mouth and an overall dryness and fatigue in the body. Some people experience a tendency towards depression while taking allergy medications. Others feel so groggy that they are forced to go to sleep, causing an interruption in their workday.
When you take allergy medicine, you are actually suppressing the body’s automatic histamine reaction. And while you are suppressing the symptoms otherwise known as an allergy attack, you are failing to address the root of what is causing the issue. Thus, many allergy sufferers keep their medications on hand at all times. They won’t dare go away to the country for a weekend without it, as they never quite know when a reaction is going to set in and disrupt their routine. Other people take allergy shots to try to change their body’s reaction to specific triggers. Millions of dollars are spent in the U.S. annually on allergy medication, as it is a common ailment that people seek treatment for.
Numerous studies and clinical trials have been conducted around the world showing the success of acupuncture in treating allergic rhinitis. The participants in the studies showed significant improvement in quality of life and decrease of allergic symptoms. In holistic medicine, we use a systematic approach to relieve allergy attacks. The immediate goal in treatment is to stop the allergy attack so that proper breathing is restored and the itchiness, sneezing, and nasal drip are stopped. The long-term goal is to get at the root of the issue to stop the sensitivity to the allergens, thereby preventing future attacks. This is done using specific acupuncture points that strengthen Wei Qi, which is comparable to our overall immune system. In conjunction, we strengthen the lung meridian, which is responsible for respiratory conditions, as well as opening the nasal passages. By strengthening our body’s immunity, we can build up our armor. It serves as a shield that can protect us from outside pathogens trying to gain entry.
Many of my patients started seeking treatments when their allergies were so out of hand that they were on a combination of various decongestants and antihistamines. Over time, those failed to work as effectively and the side effects were debilitating. They decided to try acupuncture treatments so they could change their bodies by getting to the root of what was causing the sensitivity–and thus avoid the repetitive nature of the allergies. Generally speaking, after a few treatments the symptoms are resolved, and they only need to come in for a booster maintenance treatment every once in a while. They enjoy the approach of healing naturally and not taking medications. There is no one-size-fits-all approach! With any illness, the individual’s particular concerns are addressed in order to benefit the most from the treatment in both the short and long term.