Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Seasonal allergy solutions
By KImberly Shotz LAc, NP
Springtime in Portland can be Mother Nature’s cruel joke for thousands of allergy sufferers.
The brilliant blossoms, fresh greenery and warmer weather makes people take to the streets and exhale a collective sigh of relief in celebration for another Pacific Northwest winter.
People with seasonal allergies (Allergic Rhinitis: AR) are not so inspired though. Spring blooms mean constant discomfort, red, dry, drippy noses, scratchy, puffy eyes, embarrassing sneezing fits, and seemingly incessant and shocking amounts of mucous. It means large-size tissues and an arsenal of allergy medications.
While these medications can be effective, some require a prescription, and many have side effects such as drowsiness, jitteriness, and bloody noses.
Some medications may not be safe when taken during pregnancy, while operating machinery or driving, or if one has other untreated medical conditions.
Allergy season is especially troublesome, even life-threatening, for people with serious respiratory conditions, such as asthma, sleep apnea, COPD, emphysema, Cystic Fibrosis, chronic sinusitis, and congestive heart failure.
Symptoms represent the body’s over-active immune response to Allergens, those tiny but potent particles that ride the breezes and become caught in hair, eyelashes, and clothing, or directly inhaled into the sinuses and lungs.
The most common allergens this time of year are tree pollens (Ash, Alder, Birch, Pine), some grasses (Kentucky Bluegrass), and mold spores. Allergen counts (levels) are generally worse on breezy mornings of early spring and late fall.
Ways to reduce your local allergen count
• Reduce time outside when pollen counts are higher
• Immediately remove and change clothing when returning indoors. Shower to remove pollen from hair and skin. The longer your hair, the more allergens make it into your home and your pillow.
• Saline nasal irrigation. Rinse out your sinuses with warm, slightly salty water to remove allergens.
• Pay someone to mow your lawn. If you have a lawn with allergenic grasses, consider replacing with non-allergenic grass.
• Clean your home air. Keep doors and windows closed. Get air ducts cleaned. Vacuum using HEPA filter bags. Replace furnace vents. Do this regularly. Consider a home air filter.
While western medicine offers medications and self-care, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers an effective plan that can lead to overall less frequent, less severe allergies and sometimes even rid patients of allergies altogether.
TCM uses a nature-oriented, holistic perspective to wellness and disease based on the elements of Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire.
Just as in nature there are floods, landslides, drought, forest fires, blight, dead lakes, and eventually extinction, so these patterns are applied to the five main organ system functioning in the human body.
The spleen/earth, lung/metal, kidney/water, liver/wood and heart/fire.
Wellness and strength represent harmonious balance between organ systems and between the body and its surrounding environment and climate.
The six climate factors are wind, fire, summer/heat, damp, dryness and cold. If there is weakness in the body, any one of the factors may become pathogenic, overpowering the body and causing disease. Wind is the climate factor associated with Spring.
In Allergic Rhinitis, Wind has invaded the body and becomes lodged in the nose and pores of the skin (the domain of the Lung system).
This occurs because the relative excess of Wind overcomes an underlying weakness in the body’s Protective Qi (the first barrier in our immune system), which is controlled by the lung, the kidney, and a major channel that ascends up the spine, called the Governing Vessel.
Spleen weakness is commonly involved (food metabolism).
These weaknesses may have been present at birth (inherited), or acquired through prolonged stress, poor nutrition and an unhealthy lifestyle.
Excesses which can bog down and weaken organ systems include stress, over-work, tobacco and alcohol use, dietary animal fats and sugars. Likewise deficiencies can weaken the systems: lack of sunshine, poor sleep, poor nutrition, and emotional neglect.
During allergy season, TCM treatment focuses on a patient’s acute symptoms known as the Branch. The goal is to provide quick relief and help the patient breathe easily. It is also to prevent Wind/cold pathogens from penetrating deeper into the body and causing more severe, chronic, harder to treat disease.
The rest of the year, when allergy symptoms have subsided, treatments are aimed at strengthening the Root or the immune system.
The goal is that patients will ultimately experience less frequent and less severe allergy symptoms, even rid them of allergies completely. In this way, TCM excels above Western medicine.
Treatments typically involve a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Non-needle treatments are effective and include moxabustion, cupping, Gua Sha (spoon rubs) and Tuina bodywork.
Qi Gong and Tai Chi are movement exercises a patient can do that improve posture and get Qi and blood moving throughout the body. This helps to strengthen the Governing Channel, open the chest, and get the organs nourished.
Chinese herbal formulas are most effective when prescribed by a certified Chinese herbalist and are a mainstay of treatment for allergies. Herbs allow for ongoing daily treatment without the need for office visits.
Herbs include flowers, leaves, roots, stems, shells, bones, and sometimes animal products While animal products may be the most potent Root nourishers, there are vegan options.
There are many formulas that may be effective for AR. Formulas are customized, and the practitioner creates a formula using the best combination of herbs for each individual patient.
Lastly, and hugely important: healthy diet, regular exercise and nourishing sleep are essential to strengthening the immune system Lung, Kidney, Spleen.
Avoid the excesses: alcohol, sugar, and animal fats which all promote dampness and phlegm (more mucous).
Reduce or avoid foods and habits that promote inflammation in the body: tobacco, certain cooking oils, and foods such as the nightshade family.
Remember to move your Qi everyday!
Kimberly Shotz can be reached at 971.645.4009