For many, spring is welcomed as a chance for better weather. For others spring is dreaded as the start of allergy season. I’ve been in both boats and I can tell you that you needn’t suffer forevermore.
Seasonal allergies are often called hay fever and different pollens bring about spring, summer, and fall allergies. Pollens are tiny grains that are released by flowering plants to cross-pollinate other plants for reproduction. When they are carried through the air, they can land on our eyes, skin, and noses and be inhaled into our lungs.
An allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system to a substance that is generally not harmful. Allergies can cause runny noses, sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, breathing problems, and skin rashes.
Spring allergies can start as early as January and last until approximately April, depending on the location and the climate that year. The culprit is the pollen from weeds or from trees such as oak, maple, cypress, birch, ash, hickory, elm, poplar, walnut, and olive. Summer allergies are generally from grass pollens and fall allergies are predominantly from weeds.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the main active organ systems are the *Liver and Gallbladder. Physiologically, the liver assists in detoxification of the body; the production of bile to assist in the digestion of fats; regulating blood sugar by converting excess glucose into glycogen for storage; the production of cholesterol (yes, cholesterol is important); and storing iron, amongst other things.
The TCM Liver does these things as well as regulates the cycles of the body (think sleep-wake cycles, hormonal cycles, and bicycles—just kidding on the last one); control the tendons and ligaments; relate to the eyes; and stimulate the emotions of anger, frustration, and irritability.
When managing allergies, I predominantly assess the state of 3 TCM organ systems: the Lungs, the Spleen, and the Liver. If someone has spring allergies, has hormonal or sleep balance issues, problems digesting fats, and/or struggles with expressed or suppressed issues of anger, I consider that we may need to treat the Liver. This may be done with acupuncture, Chinese herbs, supplements, foods, and possibly a cleanse.
Some things you can do to manage your allergies include:
1. If possible, try to avoid being outside from 5:00-10:00 a.m. as this is when airborne pollen levels tend to be highest.
2. Check the pollen count in your area and try to minimize your exposure when the count is high or when it is windy outside.
3. Get a good air filtration system.
4. Consider a detoxification cleanse or elimination diet. Some seasonal allergy sufferers also have allergies or sensitivities to certain foods. The sensitivity may be relatively mild, but enough to cause further over-stimulation of the immune system and thus further aggravate the hay fever.
5. Find out if supplements might be suited for you. Some allergy-suppressing supplements include high dosages of vitamin C, quercetin, plant sterols, astaxanthin, butterbur, and stinging nettle.
6. Nasal rinsing is a common practice of Ayurvedic medicine and it is done with a neti pot and saline solution (salt water). You may also find a nasal rinsing “syringe” useful. By rinsing out the offending allergen, you decrease the immune stimulus.
Of course yoga also has some solutions for allergies. Yoga can help with managing stress, including lowering feelings of anger and frustration, and thus help support the immune system. Breath is also integral in yogic practice and certain kinds of breath may be particularly useful.
Kapalabhati breath can help clear out the nasal passages and clear mucus from the lungs. Have tissues at the ready. Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is useful if you can breathe through both nostrils and it will help calm and balance your breath.
Postures that help to open the chest and the side body will support the lungs and the liver and may help you to better manage your allergies.
The best way to address seasonal allergies is to start before your allergies are in full swing. I recommend my patients to start allergy treatments in January or February if they tend to start flaring in March or April. I also recommend all my allergy patients to work on their allergies in the fall, as autumn is when the Lungs are most active.
Don’t let allergies keep you hiding indoors. Being allergy-free is a blessing that I can attribute to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Work on your allergies now so that you don’t have to be the one in yoga class with the stack of used and soon-to-be-used tissues beside your mat.
* To clarify the differentiation between the Traditional Chinese Medicine organ systems and the biological organ systems, all TCM organ names have been capitalized.
About Dr. Melissa Carr:
Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered acupuncturist and Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. Believing that her role is as guide, teacher, and motivator, her goal is to work in partnership with her patients to bring them to their optimal health. www.activetcm.com