Hayfever, or allergic rhinitis, is a huge problem for many, and a big money-maker for pharmaceutical companies.
By the way, in case you wonder how you've arrived here, this site is about how Chinese medicine explains health problems and diseases in English.
So how does Chinese medicine explain this problem?
What we call it isn't what they call it!
Tiresomely, Chinese medicine doesn't seem to have a neat way of describing 'hayfever'. We in the West have that one convenient word to convey a whole range of symptoms, such as:
- nasal congestion
- runny nasal discharge
- runny eyes (lachrimation is the technical term)
- sore eyes
- itchy nose
- itchy eyes
- red eyes, possibly conjunctivitis
- eye discharge (not runny but thick)
- allergic reaction to pollens, moulds, etc
- blocked ears
- eye sensitivity to light
Strictly speaking, some of the above symptoms aren't allergic rhinitis because they pertain to the eye or ears, and rhinitis specifically refers to the nose.
For some people these symptoms lead on to others, including headaches, chest congestion, cough, asthma, sinusitis and difficulty sleeping. For instance, if your allergic rhinitis turns into sinusitis, that's different and is treated if and when it occurs.
In turn that affects work output and performance, relationships and the ability to relax and enjoy life.
So, Thank Heavens for antihistamines, you may say. After all, they suppress your body's normal reaction to allergens. You can take them every day without needing to visit your doctor, so everyone's happy!
Antihistamines do, however, have side-effects including 'drowsiness, dizziness, headache, photo-sensitivity and respiratory depression'.
Chinese medicine approaches allergic rhinitis a different way
As you probably realise, traditional acupuncture is based on a theory of channels or meridians which encompass all parts of your body. This idea goes back at least 2,500 years and possibly far beyond even that.
Sri Lanka claims the idea as its own, 'borrowed' and 'developed' by early Chinese.
Acupuncture theory forms an important part of the theory of Classical or Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a comprehensive way of explaining health and disease which, in its own way, is as subtle and sophisticated as modern 'Western' or 'orthodox' medicine, the kind your doctor is an expert in.
At any rate, TCM has been in daily use for 2500 years and its merits are being increasingly revealed through modern research. For more on this see WHO. In the UK there are controls on what may be said on web-sites, so on this site we merely seek to explain Chinese medicine.
On this site you'll read words like lungs and kidneys, Lung(s) and Kidney(s), the difference being in the Capital Letter eg Heart.
When you see the Capital Letter at the front of the word, it means it in the Chinese medical sense. If so, it refers to the Zangfu, or Energy Organ, being the Chinese medical use of the word.
To understand this more, look up Kidneys and Liver, for example.
If you read those linked pages, you'll see that the Chinese medical theory use of the word means rather more than the Western medical use of the word. For instance, the Liver expresses itself not just in its functions but along the Liver channel - see picture.
Acupuncture Channels affected
- The Lung energy organ opens into the nose, and the Lung's partner energy organ is the Large Intestine, the acupuncture channel of which terminates next to the nose.
- The Governor channel starts between the kidneys, runs up the middle of the back along the spine up to the head, over the vertex, and down over the nose to the upper lip
- The Governor channel is an extension of the Kidney energy organ
- Sneezing is said to be 'controlled' by the Kidneys
So the main channels or Energy organs affected are the Lungs, the Kidneys and the Governor channel.
Wind is an important cause of disease in Chinese medicine. For more on this, click the link, but the idea covers a huge range of experience, the following being external:
- Drafts and winds and breezes
- Central heating
- Things which keep changing
- Air-borne causes of disease including bacteria, viruses, moulds, pollens dust, animal dander etc
- Sneezing and being sneezed on
Wind can be internal, too:
- Sudden changes of mood
Wind often combines with other pathogenic factors like Cold or Heat, to form syndromes described under Wind-Cold or Wind-Heat.
Modern medicine is very good at suppressing the acute symptoms of Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat but this can lead to chronic problems.
When a condition becomes chronic we resort to ongoing medication, which is subject to Primary and Secondary Actions.
For example, the primary action of an antihistamine is to stop the histamines released by your body from ruining your life.
The secondary actions include the drowsiness and dizziness mentioned: often you need other medication (could be coffee!) to counteract the primary actions, but that will also have secondary actions.
So some of us end up taking more and more medications, each aimed at counteracting the secondary effects of earlier drugs. That's not good for out metabolisms, though it is good for manufacturers, pharmacies and the Inland Revenue, until the Revenue have to pay your bills for medication, as in many Nationalised health services.
With allergic rhinitis, the Wind is trapped!
The way Chinese medicine thinks about it is as though the Wind is trapped in your nose, spurred to react by sources of external Wind.
When pollen enters, suddenly the trapped Wind goes mental!
What happens then, with allergic rhinitis or hayfever?
You get (some of) the symptoms of Wind-Cold.
What can be done about it?
There are two strategies in Chinese medicine.
- Deal with the acute syndrome, the Wind-Cold, at the time of the attack
- Treat the underlying tendency outside the season if it seasonal and at the same time if the condition is year-round
Chinese medicine has several ways of providing effective treatment, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs.
Acupuncture is thousands of years old, and must have been used to treat allergic rhinitis/hayfever on millions of people, even if they didn't call it 'allergic rhinitis or hayfever' because they were treating the syndromes of disease as defined in Chinese medicine. I must have treated Wind-Cold and associated syndromes thousands of times.
Herbs are even better, but of course you have to take them, and they aren't sold on taste, so don't suit everyone. (But then, why should medicine be made to taste nice? Surely that's ridiculous for many? Shouldn't it taste revolting so that you'd do anything to help yourself rather than take the stuff?)
What can you do about it?
1. Get some Treatment!
- Make sure you get a series of treatments outside the hayfever or allergic rhinitis season. In other words go for treatment before your symptoms begin.
- How many treatments you'll need depends on for how long you've had allergic rhinitis or hayfever. It is usually easier to treat someone younger than someone older, because the former has had less suppressive treatment.
- The aim of treatment outside the hayfever season is to try to clear the trapped wind and to harmonise your Kidney Qi.
- That is a bit like saying that the treatment is aimed at ironing out or reducing your inherited tendencies or susceptibilities to allergic rhinitis.
2. Homoeopathy and Herbs
- I have found that taking the correct homoeopathic remedy outside the season often reduces symptoms during it.
- However, you should see a qualified and experienced homoeopath for this. Don't experiment on your own: it takes skill! I've been doing it for well over 30 years and choosing the right remedy can still take me hours, and that's after the hour or two I've spent with the patient, telling me about it. Also, don't necessarily expect that one (set of) treatment(s) will do it. Often it takes treatments spread over several years, including what are called miasmatic remedies.
- During the season, both acupuncture and Chinese herbs may be most helpful. The herbs don't usually have anything like the same secondary actions as anti-histamines. The downside is that you need to see someone to get the right formula for your particular symptom picture. Of course the right homoeopathic remedy here can also be very effective but, if you value the sanity of your practitioner(s) don't take herbs and homoeopathic remedies together, or at least, not without their knowledge.
3. Stimulate your Kidney Qi
- Less seriously, but still relevant, is that anything which stimulates your Kidney Qi may be helpful and is probably better done outside the season.
- This won't work for everyone, especially if you have Kidney Yin deficiency already, because although you'll probably feel better for a little while, you may feel worse later. For Kidney Yin deficiency there are special treatments.
- But if you have Kidney Yang deficiency, anything which is exciting or fun or even a bit shocking may stimulate your Yang energy to work better.
- So horror movies, bungee jumping, sex and mountain climbing might do it for you. Or something else! Each to his own - but have consideration for others and don't despoil nature.
- Of course, some activities involve a lot of Wind, which may be counter-productive. Think about it first!
4. Your Spine
- Since the Kidneys exert part of their energy along the Governor channel, which runs up inside your spine, make sure you keep your spine supple and strong. There are many activities and games (often involving a ball and a net) that affect your spine beneficially; yoga and Tai Ch'i also.
- Cultivate good posture, and don't sit for too long. Your body was made for movement, not sitting all day.
- And buy my book on Qi stagnation and Stress and do the moves listed in Appendix 10.
5. Mud and Animals
- This suggestion may not help you, the reader, if you already suffer from allergic rhinitis/hayfever.
- Since the condition is allergy related, if you have children, let them enjoy playing in mud and with animals from an early age, especially in the countryside.
- This may help to accustom them to animal dander and the many possible allergens that occur naturally and to which early exposure often bestows lifelong immunity.
- Be on the lookout for trouble, however, as you may have donated them the wrong epigenes. Even so, early exposure may reduce lifelong misery.
6. Long-term effects of Suppression
- Now I venture into politically dangerous territory. The theory of suppression suggests that symptoms can't be just hidden away for ever.
- If you put a poison in, ideally your body will reject it forcefully, just as you take action if stung by a nettle or wasp, when the poison is rapidly exteriorised to the surface of your skin.
- Immunisations are different, made to give as little suffering as possible and there's the problem: the stuff goes in, and often you'd never know it or, at least, you'd never associate subsequent problems arising possibly years later with the immunisation.
- Because nearly everyone is vaccinated, placebo, double-blind with control tests are almost impossible, and if they happen, tend to focus on the reduction in the offending disease, not the long-term health consequences. (Vaccination isn't the only 'elephant in the room', by the way, but it's the biggest because one dare hardly mention it for fear of receiving an onslaught of abuse, sometimes vindictive.)
- By preventing disease from appearing at the Greater Yang stage (this is technical stuff, but relates to how the body defends itself against disease - see Six Stages) we push it deeper. It then, the theory goes, emerges in a chronic form often affecting us for many years. There's your hayfever, your allergic rhinitis.
- Which vaccinations are the culprits? I can't be sure, but one could start with those for traditional childhood diseases like measles, chicken pox and rubella.
- Ideally, vaccinated children should produce mild symptoms of the disease in question within a few hours, at most days, of receiving the vaccination.
- Very strong reactions and the absence of all reactions or only very mild reactions are all, to my mind, suspicious.
- There, I've said it. Let's hope only fervent geeks who agree with me read this far.
7. Your Lungs
- And what about your Lungs? First learn to breathe properly. See a specialist if unsure, but you need to learn to deepen and relax your breathing and, if you aren't used to this, only practice makes perfect - outside the main season.
- Histamines are released in the nasal passages, which come under the Lungs and the Governor channel. Improving Lung function may - eventually - ease or reduce histamine release.
- In Chinese medicine, the wrong foods can be a major cause of disease.
- Although allergic rhinitis and hayfever symptoms are usually of Wind-Cold syndrome nature, both cooling and heating foods can make you more susceptible, but for most, foods of a cold nature are more likely to be problematic.
- Foods that are cold, and produce Phlegm or at least what is called 'Damp', include dairy foods, raw foods, uncooked foods and cold foods.
- Also sugar and foods that rapidly turn to sugar in your blood, which include refined flours, for instance. (So ice-cream is a poor choice.)
- Raw foods includes fruit, which is often also sweet. So bananas are not a good food, having an energetic property that is cold and moistening.
- You need to become aware of the foods that increase nasal congestion, which often follows within 30 minutes after eating the food in question.
- Including warm teas rather than cold drinks is usually beneficial: such warming teas might include a little ginger or cinnamon, for instance.
- Monitor progress with your allergic rhinitis as you try different combinations of drinks.
- Read Nutrition for more about the theory behind this. Balancing your foods according to Chinese medicine helps to keep your body in balance, less likely to succumb to disease, including allergic rhinitis and hayfever.
- Too many of the wrong foods mess this up.
- Also, of course, you need to eat properly and regularly, not hastily or when stressed or rushed. This is a bigger subject than just this page can contain.
- Also discuss foods and your allergic rhinitis with your acupuncturist.
Lastly ... on Allergic Rhinitis & Hayfever
I expect to add and alter this page as time goes by.
Here I've tried to express what I think Chinese medicine has to say on allergic rhinitis and hayfever, but fellow practitioners and students may have interesting ideas - as well as those who suffer from the condition.
If you have views or experience, either as a practitioner or sufferer, do use the box below to add to the common experience and knowledge.
You can be fairly certain that someone, maybe many people, will benefit from it.
Here are several other pages which you could read:
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