March 12, 2006
Allergy Season Relief
— Kimball Cicciu
Allergy season is here. The abundant growth of spring can be extremely uncomfortable if you're one of the many who has sensitivity to nature causing a battle with runny nose, sneezing and itchy red eyes or even asthma due to antigens (allergens) in the air.
"What exactly is going on in my body to cause the allergic reaction?"
Western medicine calls the allergic reaction Allergic Rhinitis. There are actually two types, seasonal allergic rhinitis and perennial Allergic Rhinitis. The main difference between the two is simply the substance that causes the reaction, called an antigen. Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis is caused by pollen particles while Perennial Allergic Rhinitis is caused by dust, animal dander, dust-mites and such. No matter what the antigen, the body's response is the same.
The allergic response occurs when the antigen enters the nasal cavity, interacts with antibodies, and subsequently Histamine is released from the cells which line the nasal cavity. When the Histamine is released, it stimulates the nerve endings and sneezing results within minutes. This is followed by increased nasal secretion and eventually blockage of the nasal passage.
"If everyone's body responds to antigens in the same way, why do some get Allergic Rhinitis while others bear no discomfort?"
The Answer is simple. Histamine producing cells are specific cells in the nasal mucosa (lining) called Mast cells. Those who "have allergies" have more of those particular cells or simply have an over-active immune system than those who don't. The body may produce even more Mast cells as the allergen stimulation continues. That's why so many people claim that their allergies get worse as they age.
"I don't just sneeze, I get sinus infections."
As Allergic Rhinitis develops, an inflammation of the nasal mucosa ensues. Sometimes the swollen tissues can obstruct the drainage of the sinuses to cause infection.
"How is Allergic Rhinitis treated with Western Medicine?"
The common treatment for Allergic Rhinitis is the use of antihistamines. These work by blocking the Histamine from its site of action. Sounds great but these drugs can lead to side effects such as fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, gastro-intestinal disturbances and more.
"How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) explain Allergic Rhinitis?"
The idea of an overactive immune system fits well among TCM theories about Allergic Rhinitis. According to TCM, the Kidneys and Lungs are responsible for producing and spreading the protective Qi (energy) of the body which can be directly related to the immunity.
From a Chinese point of view, when there is a deficiency in the Kidney or Lung Qi, the result may be a deficiency in the protective Qi or immunity. This occurs at birth or during pregnancy and is generally considered to be hereditary or constitutional. Because of the constitutional deficiency of Kidney and Lung defensive Qi, the body is unable to ward off the antigen which then gets lodged in the nose causing allergic reaction. This resulting manifestation is considered a "wind invasion". In fact, the Chinese ideogram for wind includes the radical for "insect" or "worm" as is comparable to the mites and germs which commonly cause allergies.
"How can Traditional Chinese Medicine help?"
There are two important factors in the treatment of Allergic Rhinitis and Sinusitis with TCM. One is to treat the root cause, the deficient Kidney and Lung Protective Qi, the other is to treat the manifestation, the wind invasion. By boosting the immunity with acupuncture and herbal medicine, we can help cultivate the protective Qi, thereby preventing the Allergic Rhinitis and Sinusitis. This approach is the primary treatment recommendation when there is not a flare up of symptoms. If and when the allergic reaction begins, the main treatment will be to dislodge the wind to open the nose and prevent the production of nasal secretions.
"What would the protocol and prognosis be with Traditional Chinese Medicine?"
With the implementation of both of these treatment principles via the use of acupuncture and herbal medicine, your over sensitive nose can be a thing of the past. Spring fever can have a whole new meaning for you. The season of change can at last be pleasant and welcome. Who knows, maybe you'll even enjoy a newfound love of gardening, hiking or landscaping in the refreshing open air.