It’s that wonderful time of year again here in Toronto, where the sun is finally peeking out from behind the clouds and the temperature is on the rise. However, for a number of us this can also be the return of something unwanted – the dreaded allergy season. During the spring season, tree pollen is in the air as things start to turn green outside, and mold spores are also airborne as the snow quickly melts away and leaves the ground damp. An increase in dust mites can be seen as we begin to dig out umbrellas and raincoats, disturbing the dust that accumulated over the winter. These are the major contributors to springtime allergies, later followed by other types of pollen including grass (late spring/summer) and ragweed (late summer/autumn). Typically, pollen levels peak in the morning, so symptoms can be worst when waking up.
This can come as a first-time occurrence for many and due to a number of symptoms being the same as that of a common cold it can easily be misinterpreted as just being “under the weather”.
Common symptoms of seasonal allergies can include:
- Nasal congestion (leading to headaches, difficulty breathing, etc.)
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes, ears, mouth (palate), nose
- Red/watery/puffy eyes
- Rashes or hives
If you notice these issues have been affecting you for an extended period of time and are impacting your sleep, concentration, and daily activities, this is likely an indication that you are dealing with allergies. When you come into contact with an “allergen” (such as pollen) that you are allergic to, this will cause your body’s immune system to kick into high gear thinking that the allergen is dangerous to you. Cells send out inflammatory mediators called histamines into the bloodstream in order to push out these foreign objects through sneezing, runny nose, etc. This protective mechanism is meant to protect you from harm, but unfortunately manifests in inconvenient ways.
The first line of defense that most people turn to is an over-the-counter antihistamine and/or decongestant. These provide short term relief from symptoms. Antihistamines work by inhibiting cell receptors to prevent the release of histamines, and some even have sedative effects to help combat sleeping issues as a result of symptoms. Decongestants cause the blood vessels in the mucous membrane of your nose to constrict, thus stopping runny nose and helping clear the airway (Sperber & Flaws, 2016). The downside? Well for starters, you may experience extremely dry mouth, nose and eyes, and if you have a drowsy formula then you must refrain from operating any motorized vehicles for a certain time period. Other more serious side effects include hypotension, vertigo, urinary retention and tachycardia. This happens when the antihistamines start to block other receptors than just the histamine-releasing ones. An additional problem with repeatedly taking the same medication is that your body can start to build a resistance to it, and the intended effects will no longer be produced.
Tips on how to reduce severity of allergy symptoms:
- Spring cleaning: Give your home a top to bottom clean in order to eliminate any accumulated dust and debris
- Shower after spending time outdoors: Washing away any pollen that may have floated onto your hair, skin, or clothing will help you to have a better night’s sleep
- Get lots of rest: If your body is tired this can make your immune system more vulnerable and not at it’s optimal level to fight off attacks
- Keep calm & de-stress: Stress is a major contributor to many conditions we can be affected by, as it not only impacts us mentally but physically as well
- Exercise: Getting up and moving will help your body to function better by circulating blood, improving breathing and sleep, and increasing energy
- Acupuncture: Having regular acupuncture treatments can not only help with reducing the short term symptoms of allergies, but also with preventing future attacks by regulating immune function and correcting imbalances in your body
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Lung organ system is most under attack with allergy and immunity issues. This does not simply mean the physical lungs themselves, but rather a whole system connected to other parts of the body by channels, blood, and energy (Qi). The theory surrounding this system say that it governs the skin, opening and closing function of pores, helps facilitate respiration, and opens into the nose. This all makes sense when you think back to how allergens come into contact with the surface of your body, and the histamine response causes hives, sneezing, nasal congestion, and more.
With acupuncture, our goal as a preventative measure to allergies would be to strengthen and balance your body by improving blood circulation and correcting underlying disharmonies. During acute attacks of allergies, acupuncture can be used therapeutically to manage the symptoms that are currently being presented, while still addressing those underlying patterns. Acupuncture points are carefully chosen across the whole body, according to their location and function. Studies have shown that acupuncture can improve symptoms of persistent allergic rhinitis (Mcdonald, et al., 2016). Not only this, it will indirectly help in other areas of your health by regulating stress, sleep and other functions. Acupuncture is a safe option to treat seasonal allergies, as it does not produce harmful side effects and can improve your quality of life if you are dealing with this condition chronically (Feng, et al., 2015).
Sperber, G., & Flaws, B. (2016). Integrative pharmacology: Combining modern pharmacology with integrative medicine(Second ed.). Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, a division of Blue Poppy Enterprises.
Mcdonald, J. L., Smith, P. K., Smith, C. A., Xue, C. C., Golianu, B., & Cripps, A. W. (2016). Effect of acupuncture on house dust mite specific IgE, substance P, and symptoms in persistent allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,116(6), 497-505. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2016.04.002
Feng, S., Han, M., Fan, Y., Yang, G., Liao, Z., Liao, W., & Li, H. (2015). Acupuncture for the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy,29(1), 57-62. doi:10.2500/ajra.2015.29.4116
Sonam Patel, R.Ac, B.Sc is a Registered Acupuncturist at the Pacific Wellness Institute. She is available for acupuncture treatments. Please call 416-929-6958 to inquire about the appointment.