Chinese Medicine for Relieving Allergies
Shoshanna Katzman, MS, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac & CH
The predominant Chinese medicine view of disease is that illness is caused by an imbalance in the flow of qi, also known as vital energy. Allergies stem from the same, yet specifically involving a qi blockage of the nose and sinuses and referred to as bi yuan, which translates as “nose pool.” Allergies are said to occur when wei qi (defensive Qi) is weak and not able to protect the body from invasion of the external pernicious factor of the “evil wind.” Instead, wind enters the upper body bringing dampness in the form of a runny nose and congestion, and heat symptoms in the form of itchy eyes. Chinese Medicine diagnosis for allergies is thus described as a manifestation of “wind invading the body.”
Acupuncture, cupping, Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese dietary recommendations, and Chinese exercises such as qigong and tai chi provide excellent treatment options for alleviation of allergies. Each of these modalities focuses on treatment of the whole person, the building of wei qi for adequate immunity, and dispelling of the wind from the body. Treatment for seasonal allergies should begin approximately 6-8 weeks before one’s allergic season, although treatment can be helpful at the onset as well. Chinese medicine practitioners traditionally recommend treatment for allergies through using all of the disciplines mentioned above for increased strength and power in terms of ability to strengthen qi flow adequately.
According to the Chinese classic the Nei Jing, deficiency of wei qi stems from issues derived from the weakness of the spleen and inability for it to fully govern digestion. In this case, the spleen is not transforming food properly into a clear substance, thus unable to supplement the qi of the lung. This impairs immune function because the lungs serve to control the wei qi. The spleen and the lungs are also involved with the production of phlegm, whereby it is said that “the spleen is the root of phlegm engenderment, the lungs are the place where phlegm is stored.” Therefore, spleen weakness leads to increased production of phlegm dampness because it is not able to perform its function of transforming fluids within the body. Instead, the fluids become stagnant and transform into dampness, which over time becomes excessive phlegm. This, in turn, impairs the function of the lungs. Therefore, it can be seen from these explanations that a deeper underlying root cause of allergies can be said to be the spleen organ system. Thus any treatment plan to strengthen energetic immunity and resolve excessive phlegm must involve balancing of the spleen in combination with the strengthening of the lungs.
Therefore, spleen weakness leads to increased production of phlegm dampness because it is not able to perform its function of transforming fluids within the body. Instead, the fluids become stagnant and transform into dampness, which over time becomes excessive phlegm. This, in turn, impairs the function of the lungs. Therefore, it can be seen from these explanations that a deeper underlying root cause of allergies can be said to be the spleen organ system. Thus any treatment plan to strengthen energetic immunity and resolve excessive phlegm must involve balancing of the spleen in combination with the strengthening of the lungs.
Two Major Types of Allergic Rhinitis
There are two major types of allergic rhinitis, one is wind cold and the other is wind heat. Wind cold is characterized by clear, thin, and copious watery phlegm, whereas wind heat leads to thick, opaque, and yellowish phlegm. Treatment for the wind-cold type is to strengthen overall qi and balance the energetics of the spleen and lungs while releasing the wind from the body. There are acupuncture point combinations and Chinese herbal formulas specifically designed for these purposes. There are particular formulas designated for acute rhinitis, and others for administration after the acute phase is over which target an individual’s underlying energetic constitutional imbalance.
Chinese herbs are introduced as needed and are a great way to further reduce the allergy symptoms without the side effects of over the counter and prescription allergy medications. Chinese formulas are easily obtained as patented formulas, in pill form. For example, bi yan pian is an excellent formula for dispelling the wind and reducing phlegm within the nasal passages. Another patent remedy which is commonly used is called pe min kan wan, and translated as “nose allergy pills.” This formula is good for treatment of wind heat symptoms, helping to clear heat and toxins, reduce phlegm, cool the blood, and clear the nasal passages. There is also a formula called “minor blue dragon” that can be taken as an herbal decoction or also be found in pill form. It is used for the treatment of wind cold symptoms and taken to specifically resolve excessive phlegm production and strengthen the qi of the lungs.
Single Chinese herbs are also recommended for treatment of allergies, each in tea form. These include ginger, chrysanthemum, and green tea. Chrysanthemum tea is infused from dried chrysanthemum flowers, which serve to clear heat, calm the liver, and eliminate redness of the eyes. Ginger tea is made by adding ¼ inch of grated raw ginger, added to a cup of water. It is then brought to a boil and simmered for 20 minutes. Ginger is a natural antihistamine and decongestant and provides relief by releasing constricted bronchial tubes. Green tea also has antihistamine effect due to the catechins that it contains. It can be made from loose green tea leaves, by pouring one cup of boiled water over a teaspoon of leaves and steep for approximately 10 minutes. Strain the liquid for each of these teas and drink it hot, with honey added if desired to promote the healing benefits of the tea. Generally, these teas are best when consumed one time a day for prevention, and two to three times a day during an acute allergic phase.
Acupuncture is also useful as a preventative treatment for allergies, as well as one that is quite helpful when allergies are acutely active. It is a safe and effective tool for treating allergy symptoms such as itchy red eyes, scratchy throat, sinus congestion, sneezing, cough, and shortness of breath. Acupuncture points are used to strengthen the immune system and normalize the immune response to allergens by balancing the nervous system.
Some of the most effective acupuncture points for treatment of allergies are large intestine 20, large intestine 4, stomach 36, stomach 3, stomach 44, gall bladder 14, and lung 7. Cupping treatment is traditionally applied to the upper back along the urinary bladder meridian on the acupuncture point urinary bladder 13. Qigong exercises which specifically target strengthening of the lung and spleen meridian are the best for the treatment of allergies. However, qigong and tai chi as a whole naturally strengthen the body’s wei chi defensive response, together with boosting qi flow throughout the entire body – both leading to optimal health and wellness. It is essential to check with a Chinese medicine practitioner such as an acupuncturist who is highly trained in Chinese herbal medicine to make sure that these formulas are appropriate for one’s particular constitution. Furthermore, these formulas are contraindicated for particular conditions such as pregnancy or tendency toward bleeding.
Following particular dietary recommendations is another major component of treatment and prevention of allergic reactions. This involves strengthening the energetics of the spleen by eating more warming and drying foods and drastically reducing cold and raw foods such as salads and sushi. It is also helpful to eliminate foods that can cause an allergic reaction, especially during the acute phase of the allergies and then re-introduce them when the body is strong and healthy. In general, reduction of foods responsible for excessive phlegm production is a good idea, not only to ward off the chance of allergies but also for overall continued vibrancy of health. These include foods such as dairy products, sugar in the form of cookies, cakes, and candies, as well as products made with wheat and corn. Elimination of greasy, oily, and fatty foods is also recommended, as well as those adulterated with dyes and coloring agents. Specific foods reputed for their help with allergies include radishes, which transform phlegm, alleviate dry itchy throat, relieve a sore throat, clear the nasal passages, and reduce phlegm. Garlic and onions are also excellent foods due to their anti-inflammatory property.
This information provides practical ways to ward off allergies when approaching, deal with them at their height, and strengthen the body after they are gone with hopes of them not returning. Chinese medicine certainly holds great options for dealing with the onslaught of allergies. Be proactive and work toward strengthening the energetics of your lungs and spleen to keep your immunity strong. Through keeping qi flowing and body balanced through following right living habits and seeking Chinese medicine help when necessary, health and wellness will be naturally and eternally yours.
Enhance your Health with Qigong
Learn a series of gentle movements from the ancient Chinese art of self-healing and fitness, to maintain health and nurture your spirit.
Qigong is a form of energy medicine movement that activates the body both physically and energetically. During Qigong training, you learn to cultivate your Qi (vital energy) and increase energetic awareness. This results in an increased sensitivity to electrical, magnetic and other energies not just emanating from yourself, but from others.
Through the practice of Qigong one begins to strengthen and train the development of inner awareness. When this occurs, a person can begin to access information within themselves in an enhanced manner increasing inner wisdom.
Shoshanna is the author of Qigong for Staying Young: A Simple 20-Minute Workout to Cultivate Your Vital Energy. Visit Shoshanna’s Qigong Online Store at https://qigongforlonglife.com/
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