It is now full spring. Trees begin to bud and flowers bloom. To some, this means the end of long, cold winter days. But for others spring can be dreadful, as many face allergic rhinitis – an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways caused mostly by various pollens released by surrounding trees, weeds and grasses. The most common symptoms include sneezing, a clear runny nose, nasal congestion and itchiness. Merritt’s dry, dusty spring climate along with these pollens can worsen these symptoms with eye redness and dryness, hives and other mild skin reactions.
Many often mistakenly believe that allergies only occur in the spring, but they are also common when there are significant differences between day-time and night-time temperatures, and with any change of season. In fact, allergic symptoms can persist year-round. In severe cases, additional symptoms can include light sensitivity, excessive tears and chronic headaches.
Allergic rhinitis is a typical allergic disease affecting the nose, but it is not strictly a nasal problem. It is related to the immune function of the whole body. Deterioration and weakness of immune function can cause a hypersensitivity to allergens. The hypersensitivity to environmental exposures – including pollen, dust, animal dander, mold, smoke, and certain foods – contributes to nasal inflammation and also appears to have an effect on the eyes, skin and/or bronchia in the form of conjunctivitis, atopic dermatitis, and asthma. Susceptibility to allergies can run in the family.
In Eastern medicine there is a concept called Wei Qi which corresponds to the concept of immune function in Western medicine. Wei Qi wraps the surface of our body and protects it from external “evils”. What causes Wei Qi to weaken? It can be explained internally by the weakening of lung, spleen, and kidney function predominantly, or by the idea of our body being attacked externally by wind-heat or wind-cold, for example. Other factors are exertion and emotional “congestion” due to stress, both of which disturb the circulation of qi and blood.
Within Eastern medicine there are different approaches to allergy treatment, but there are always two target goals. Treating “the branches” focuses on symptoms and treating “the roots” focuses on the internal organs and/or original qi of our body. In acupuncture, the special acupoints Ying Xiang and Feng Fu on the face and head are commonly used for treatment, and certain acupuncture points are massaged so that blood flows more smoothly and evenly. In herbal medicine, differentiating and diagnosing the individual’s constitution and deficiency/fullness, and cold/heat of each organ related (especially with lung-centered symptoms) should, of course, precede treatment. The lungs are treated so that the excess heat or coldness within is first released. This moistens the lungs again and gets rid of the phlegm, which eventually clears up the nasal cavity. Treatment should be individualized according to the patient’s symptomatology. Doing so will lead to rapid recovery with no side-effects, unlike treatment using antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.