A runny nose, sneezing, itchy watery eyes…also known as symptoms of allergies. Allergies can really be a pain. It is estimated that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from allergies every year, and spend over $18 billion a year on over-the-counter allergy medications. What if there were a way to combat allergies without the harsh side effects of medications and actually get to the root of the problem instead of just masking the symptoms? In fact, there is. The arm of traditional Chinese medicine called acupuncture has proven effectiveness when it comes to allergies.
Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offer a safe, holistic approach to allergies that can end up saving you money in the long term. Western medicine sees seasonal allergies as a hypersensitive reaction that occurs when antibodies interact with airborne particles such as pollen. Interestingly, the places in the body where these antibodies are produced align with the energy meridians most strongly connected to allergic reactions in TCM. Both Western medicine and TCM map these sensitivity points onto the gastrointestinal tract and the spleen. Both schools of thought also connect inflammatory foods such as sugar with allergy flare-ups. Through TCM, patients can find allergy relief through a holistic wellness plan that doesn’t necessitate a reliance on synthetic medications.
Acupuncture for Allergies: Acupuncture helps build or tonify the energy within the respiratory system and the immune system. This energy is called qi (pronounced “chee”). When lung qi and the Wei qi (aka the immune system) are strong and the body is balanced, then allergies rarely become an issue. Acupuncture stimulates blood flow, which carries oxygen to every cell in the body. The increased blood flow boosts the immune system, dilates the bronchioles and produces anti-inflammatory agents that help improve breathing by relaxing the muscles.
Acupuncture Points for Allergies:
1. Large Intestine 20 – This point is located bilaterally on the face, on either side of the nose, in the middle of the nasolabial groove. Large intestine 20 is used to open nasal passages and clear heat from the sinuses.
2. Lung 5 – Lung 5 is located at the end of the outer crease of the elbow, just to the outside of the tendon. This point opens up the airways and the throat, while reducing wheezing.
3. Ren 17 – This point is located in the middle of the chest, midway between both nipples. It is used to open the chest, loosen up congestion, stop coughing and encourage full breathing.
4. Chinese Herbals Formulas for Allergies: Combinations of herbs, known as formulas, are used frequently in TCM. One of the most commonly used formulas is Yu Ping Feng San or Jade Wind Screen. This formula builds up the Wei qi, while decreasing allergy symptoms like sneezing and rhinitis.
5. Another popular formula choice of TCM practitioners is Bi Yan Pian. This formula works to clear the nasal passages, and it usually works within five days to a week. Compare that with the weeks of symptoms many people spend trying to mask with Western medicine. The herbs in Bi Yan Pian work to disperse wind, expel toxins, relieve inflammation and dissolve phlegm.
6. Nutrition for Allergies: For the lungs and respiratory system to be strong, they need proper nourishment, just like the rest of the body. Certain foods are good for increasing immunity, while also opening up the lungs and increasing circulation. Foods like garlic and onions reduce inflammation and fight off infections. Chili peppers open up the nasal passages, stimulating the mucus membranes and fighting off pollen, bacteria and viruses. Peppers, berries and parsley all contain quercetin, which can reduce histamine reactions that occur when allergies flare up.
In 2015, the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy published research that found acupuncture is effective for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is also known as hay fever. The researchers compiled the results from 13 quality studies, which followed 2,365 participants. The various studies confirmed that acupuncture significantly lowers the antibody known as immunoglobulin E or IgE. IgE is the antibody associated with allergies and hypersensitivities. The researchers found not only was the IgE antibody lowered, but so too were the symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis. Additionally, the participants reported better quality of life.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer a solution to seasonal allergies that is all natural and will save you money. TCM uses an elemental system to determine where there are excesses and deficiencies in each person, allowing the treatments to be completely customized to each patient. The unique treatment plans not only make them more effective than one-size-fits-all, over-the-counter medications, they also address imbalances in each person that would not necessarily be connected to an aggravation of allergies in Western medical thought.
When using TCM to treat allergies, practitioners focus heavily on something called Wei Qi. Wei Qi is similar to the immune system in Western medicine. Wei Qi protects the body against foreign materials that can lead to inflammation and eventually allergies. People with lower immunity or Wei Qi are more susceptible to allergies and frequent colds. Acupuncture helps to boost the Wei Qi making it more difficult for allergens to attack the body.
Acupuncture by itself will make a difference in fighting allergies, but adding herbs and herbal formulas will provide the final punch to help eliminate allergies for good. Because each patient has different causes for their allergies, adding herbal formulas can greatly increase the efficacy of the acupuncture treatments by extending the effect of the needles. For example, if a patient specifically gets itchy, watery eyes when their allergies flare up, then the practitioner would likely want to draw the excess energy down. In this particular case, the patient would have an excess of fire-creating wind. The practitioner would use acupuncture points known to decrease fire and wind in the body. Then, adding herbs that do the same thing would create a one-two punch type of treatment that has longer lasting, more permanent effects.
Ultimately, acupuncture boosts the Wei Qi while decreasing the inflammatory response in your body that occurs when an allergen is encountered. The other aspect of treatment, as stated earlier, is to look at the patient as a whole versus just the symptoms, perhaps bringing other elements into balance that you might not think would have an effect on allergies. A good acupuncturist will focus on dietary habits that may be contributing. Many times a person’s Wei Qi is depleted from within due to the foods they are eating. Foods like sugar and dairy are often associated with a lower immune system. Eliminating or drastically reducing these items will allow the body to recover more quickly, making allergy attacks easier to resolve.
A comprehensive plan that includes acupuncture treatments, herbs and dietary changes will yield the best results when it comes to fighting allergies. Be sure to seek out a professional, fully trained and properly licensed acupuncturist and you will be grateful year after year for the relief they provide when it comes to treating allergies.
Acupuncture and Seasonal Allergies
In 2013, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study looking at 422 seasonal allergy sufferers who presented with rhinitis, or hay fever, and who had tested positive for pollen allergies. The volunteer patients were split into three groups. The first group received acupuncture treatments and took antihistamines as needed. The second group was given fake acupuncture (acupuncture needles inserted in random places unrelated to treating allergies) and also took antihistamines as needed. The third group only took antihistamines and did not receive any acupuncture. After the treatment, all the participants completed a questionnaire to assess any changes in their perceived quality of life as well as their need to use antihistamines.
From the initial analysis published in 2013, the results were inconclusive. Initially, acupuncture had a significant, positive effect on the group that received true acupuncture treatments. Patients reported their rhinitis improved and they needed less medications. However, so too did the group that received fake acupuncture, suggesting there was a significant placebo effect and that people went into the treatment believing acupuncture would help their symptoms. The third group reported no improvement in their symptoms or medication use. After eight weeks, the patients filled out a follow-up questionnaire. Both patients in the true and fake acupuncture groups reported their symptoms had returned two months post-treatment.
In June, 2018 a group of researchers published a second analysis of the results of this previous 2013 study, focusing on the patients’ use of antihistamines 8 weeks after the treatment. This time, they analyzed the results of 414 of the original 422 patients, presumably because some of the questionnaires were incomplete or another factor surfaced that made the data from eight of the patients unusable. The researchers found that eight weeks after their acupuncture treatments, the group that received true acupuncture used antihistamines to mitigate their symptoms significantly less than those in the group that received fake acupuncture – a difference of about five days. Additionally, 38 percent of the group that received true acupuncture weren’t using any antihistamines at all. Comparing the pre-treatment antihistamine-use of the patients with the post-treatment antihistamine use showed the group that received true acupuncture did not need to increase the number of days they used antihistamines, unlike the other groups.
It is hard to definitively say that acupuncture will cure seasonal allergies for every patient with hay fever symptoms. However, this research shows it can decrease the need to mitigate symptoms with antihistamines. More and more people are turning to acupuncture as a safe alternative to frequent use of chemical medications. Unlike habitual use of medications, there are no dangerous side effects associated with acupuncture. Today, about 18 percent of Americans use acupuncture to treat allergy symptoms.
As opposed to the patients in the clinical study discussed above, people who seek acupuncture treatments from a licensed practitioner in their area can expect a holistic treatment plan tailor made for them. Acupuncturists will offer dietary suggestions as well as Chinese herbal medicine options to accompany the work they do with acupuncture needles. By looking at your specific sensitivities and lifestyle, traditional Chinese medicine has the chance to alleviate seasonal allergies as well as support you in finding a healthier life overall.