It seems that ‘allergy season’ comes earlier every year. Although it may be true that certain seasons have a propensity to bombard us with excess pollen, there isn’t really one season for allergies. Some people only suffer during a particular season while others may suffer all year long. Some people are allergic to only one thing, while others suffer from a multitude or combination of allergens. Whatever the individual pattern, it is estimated that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from allergies.
From a Chinese medicine (CM) perspective allergies appear when our Wei qi (defensive qi) is very weak or the pathogen is immensely strong in comparison. This is very similar to how colds and flus invade the system. How does this happen? One of the 6 pernicious influences (cold, dry, damp, hot, summer heat and wind) invades. Your body’s natural defensive system (the wei qi) should rally to fight and hopefully expel the pathogen. However it may succumb if the system is too weak, the pathogen too strong, or our actions allow the pathogen to perpetuate. Treatment and prevention of allergies are focused on the individual, treating both the acute (sniffling, sneezing, etc.) and focusing on building the system to prevent and reduce reoccurrence.
What can you do?
Allergies can be particularly tenacious and difficult to treat, especially if they are severe or chronic–but they can be treated, you just need to be tenacious. Here are some ideas.
Half of the battle is knowing your constitution and your pattern. For example, if you have a history of colds or Lung qi weakness, treatment will focus on rebuilding that energy in times when allergies aren’t acute. If you have a lot of phlegm, treatment will focus on draining phlegm even in times when the allergies aren’t flaring up. Be aware of other situations that trigger your allergies. Is it in the spring? When you are around cats? When you walk down the detergent aisle in a store? Once patterns are identified then lifestyle habits, nutrition and herbs can be clearly focused to treat.
Wage war on phlegm and dampness
Excess dampness and mucus congest the lung, sinuses and respiratory system. Dampness bogs us down, making you feel muzzy headed, slow and heavy. If dampness perpetuates it congeals into phlegm which is even heavier and slows down the immune system stifling the Wei qi. The presence of excess dampness and phlegm are often a huge component in allergies as well as other diseases including candida, diabetes, some forms of arthritis and even cancers. Foods that perpetuate dampness include: dairy, processed and refined grains, yeasted foods, sugar, tomatoes, pork, oils and fats–time to cut out the cheese covered pasta. Foods that help to cut damp and phlegm include: squash, onions, turnips, radishes, and dark leafy greens. Pungent spices such as; rosemary, thyme, basil, clove, cinnamon and mints are helpful too.
Improve your diet
Foods can benefit or hinder any condition in the body. If you are actively trying to treat a pattern such as allergies caused by wind damp, then including foods that both drain dampness and eliminate wind are the perfect match. Add them into your diet while eliminating foods that cause dampness or wind. Ask your practitioner for examples.
Build in the ‘off season’
When you are not suffering acutely it is the ideal time to build the system. As we build, we become less sensitive and will not react as strongly–if at all– to the pathogen. This again means being tenacious and working towards prevention not just treating acute symptoms.
Proper exercise increases circulation, respiratory function, immunity–it goes on. Let’s face it, proper exercise is imperative for vitality. There isn’t one perfect exercise–the key is find the exercise that you enjoy that is matched to your needs (we can help you with that, too).
Be prepared and act
Stock your cupboards with the teas, herbs and foods before the season lands on you. If you start to feel a little congested, maybe because you indulged in too much ice cream, use a steam to clear your sinuses and pull your diet back to more clearing foods. The benefits of instilling preventative habits are amazing–they just require you making a new habit. “Oh, I feel phlegmy? I will opt for the onion soup rather than the cream of mushroom.”
Watch out for wind
One of the 6 pernicious influences, wind is often present in colds, flu and allergies. To understand wind you simply need to see how it moves. In the body, wind invades in the upper regions, through the sinuses, back of the neck and ears. It moves quickly and transforms rapidly. It sends chills down the spine and makes us sniffle, twitch, have a scratchy throat, headache or watery eyes–and wind often carries in cold or heat with it. Wind rises in the spring, just as we are shedding our heavy clothes leaving us vulnerable and open. Wear scarves and hats to protect from wind invasion. People with Liver pathologies are vulnerable to wind. Quick test—do you like the wind? If you just cringed and crunched up the back of your neck and said ‘no, I hate it,’ you are likely susceptible to Liver CM patterns.
Be well, wear beautiful scarves.