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Understanding Seasonal Allergies with Chinese Medicine

Thu. February 22, 2018

By Celeste Homan, M.S., D.Ac., L.Ac.
Associate Professor, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program

Chinese medicine understands the human body as an expression of the natural world. From this perspective, the movement of fluids in the body is similar to the movement of water that we see in nature. Influenced by the warming of the sun, water from the sea steams upward to form clouds that drift over the land where rain restores the rivers and streams. Turbid water is purified as it percolates through soil and rocks. Fetid swamps and marshes are teaming with life because they allow for the slow crucial processes of transformation. Our human energetic physiology includes all of these mechanisms.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) results when one or more regions of the body cannot manage fluids properly. The sinuses, throat and lungs can become dry if there are insufficient fluids steaming upward from the transformations of the digestive system. Turbid fluids that are meant to descend might be carried upward with heat under the influence of emotional stress. Digestive stagnation can cause the body to absorb toxins that the bowels are meant to eliminate. These types of physiological difficulties can result in the formation of phlegm in the sinuses, and the itchy inflammation of the eyes and skin that are associated with SAR. Patients need help restoring the moistening and purifying actions of body fluids.

Unfortunately, conventional treatment of SAR does not always support the body’s adaptive mechanisms for restoring balance. Most commonly, antihistamines are used to dry phlegm. This approach further compromises the body’s ability to expel toxins that have made their way to the upper regions of the body. Some patients recognize a relationship between their digestive and emotional health and the symptoms of SAR. Patient coaching and self-care instructions are often needed to address the underlying cause.

The case report for a pediatric acupuncture patient with SAR will be presented at the upcoming MUIH Research Symposium. Her pediatrician recommended a common pharmacological treatment and a nasal steroid spray, but in the weeks that followed, the patient developed impetigo followed by a skin rash, and acute symptoms of swollen lips and tongue. Her conventional treatment during this time included several trips to the pediatrician, one emergency room visit, and a pharmaceutical cascade that included a tropical cream, an antibiotic, and other prescription medications.

The patient discontinued all medications for one week, and her skin and sinus symptoms returned. After three acupuncture treatments and self-care instructions that included lifestyle recommendations to support her constitutional temperament, the patient’s symptoms resolved. Acupressure and essential oils were administered at home to sustain the benefits of treatment as needed. The patient returned for treatment every one to three months, for a total of 8 treatments between May 2016 and September 2017 and she remains symptom free.  She also reports feeling more calm and confident.

If you suffer from SAR, make careful observations of your symptoms. You may see a relationship to your digestive and emotional health. Find ways to manage stress and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. Experiment with aromatherapy including peppermint, eucalyptus and citrus oils to open your sinuses and then allow them to drain.

For more information about the case report described above, please visit the MUIH research symposium on March 23.