Author: Rebekah Michaels
Welcome to spring allergy season! Seasonal allergies are often called “hay fever” although in the northeast the main spring allergens are usually tree pollens; summer allergens are grasses and in the fall we have ragweed. Mold is also a trigger for many people, with all the rain and flooding we’ve had recently there will be no shortage of mold spores floating about this year. Seasonal allergies generally effect the sinuses and the eyes, seasonal rhinitis and seasonal conjunctivitis respectively. The symptoms may include itchy runny nose with clear watery discharge, sinus congestion and pressure, post nasal drip with scratchy throat, sneezing, throat clearing cough, itchy upper pallet and ears, and watery, itchy, red eyes. When symptoms are bad there may also be a frontal or temporal headache and fatigue. By now you may have a good management strategy for your seasonal allergies but if you are still having symptoms or are concerned about potential side effects or rebound effects from medications read on.
Sinus lavage is the number one do it yourself intervention I recommend for people with seasonal allergies effecting the sinuses. It is safe, inexpensive, and very effective. You can read about my favorite lavage tool, the Neti pot, in my article on cold and flu prevention. The pollens that cause seasonal allergies are air born and they enter the respiratory system mostly through the nose. Sinus lavage offers three main benefits: washes out irritating pollen particles, reduces accumulation of mucus, and helps shrink inflamed sinus tissue. The idea is to get ahead of the misery both by reducing exposure – washing out the particles, and by minimizing the effects of over production of mucus leading to clogged uncomfortable sinuses. You may need to use your Neti pot or other lavage technique several times a day in your peak season. You must boil the water you use in your Neti pot to kill any pesky (and potentially fatal) bacteria that could be in the water supply and might be able to get into your brain via the sinuses.
For people who’s allergy symptoms include itchy, red, irritated eyes the self care equivalent of the Neti pot is to shampoo the lash line. Use a cotton swab with a small amount of baby shampoo (no more tears formula) to gently clean along the lash line with your eye closed, rinse with warm water before reopening the eye. The baby shampoo will remove the irritating particles that stick to the natural oil in the lashes without adding to the irritation. These are your eyesso use a separate cotton swab for each eye and don’t double dip! I use a trail size bottle of baby shampoo dedicated to this purpose to reduce the possibility of contamination. I have found that this technique also works well for reducing eye symptoms related to cat allergies. This is also a technique that you will need to use regularly during your peak allergy season especially when you’ve been doing something like mowing the grass or bike riding in the pollen laden wind. Please use common sense and don’t do this without consulting your doctor if you have an eye condition or are using prescription eye medication, and don’t do this with your contact lenses in! For you beauty mavens reading this, baby shampoo is quite drying so this will not “improve the appearance of fine lines around the eyes.”
Acupuncture works very well to reduce sinus pressure and inflammation and will give you a good starting point to put these self care tips to work. Many people experience immediate relief from pressure and improved sinus and ear drainage during a treatment. Regular treatments before the onset of symptoms can help to balance the immune system and seem to reduce the inflammatory response associated with allergies for some people. In Chinese medicine treating seasonal allergies is about more then just mitigating the symptoms, we also address the underlying constitutional weakness that make a person vulnerable and to strengthen the body’s protective energy, the “wei qi”. Seasonal allergies are from the category of diseases that penetrate the body’s defenses courtesy of the climatic factor of wind.
Chinese herbal medicine offers a wealth of treatment possibilities for seasonal allergies. We have some very effective patent medicines that may be just the thing for someone with mild or occasional symptoms, or we can create a customized formula for someone with more severe symptoms or other concurrent health concerns. My favorite patent medicine to have on hand for sinus allergy symptoms is “Bian Pian” (available from Amazon.com). A customized prescription allows the herbalist to continuously evolve the formula as the patient’s condition changes. Treatment prior to onset of symptoms is very helpful for people with severe seasonal allergies. For people who are sensitive to medications or have found that their tried and true strategies are no longer effective Chinese herbal medicine offers a safe and effective alternative.
The Merck Manual – second home edition, Pocket books 2003
The treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine – Bob Flaws & Philippe Sionneau, Blue Poppy Press 2001
Dr. Tao Xie – Clinic notes, winter 2010