As the seasons change, I begin to notice my patients complaining of a drippy nose and sinus headaches with watery eyes. Some experience a combination of symptoms like sneezing and congested, nasal voices as well. Surprisingly, with a simple treatment of tiny needles inserted into our sinus points and on the body, these annoying symptoms can be fought off with drugless, ancient medicine.
How it Works, in the Eyes of Biomedicine:
Acupuncture treatment has comparable effects to treatments with common antihistamines on allergic symptoms. Biomedicine explains it this way: acupuncture induces a kind of an immune-regulatory effect on the body. The researchers and physicians look at markers like immunoglobulins and interleukin levels in the serum during our body’s natural allergic responses. When these markers are measured in the serum after the acupuncture treatments, natural anti-histamine markers are increased and allergic response systems in the body are diminished as a result. It is not surprising then, that when regulating the body’s own immune response, persistent allergic symptoms diminish, while with application of drug therapy, recurrence of symptoms is common.
Acupuncture therapy is a great alternative for individuals with intolerance to drugs, pregnant women and for individuals with specific contraindications for western immunotherapy.
An Alternate Approach to Understanding our Physiology:
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s view of allergies and sinus symptoms do not account for IgE, interleukin or the series of allergic responses found in the body. The foundational understanding of the immune system in TCM is based on the theory of Qi, pronounced “CH-E-E”. Anyone who has had acupuncture treatments has experienced the movement of Qi with the stimulation of needles placed in specific points in the body. Qi is energy, and its flow explains normal physiological functions of the body and the interrelationships of its parts. A modern physicist would understand this through particle physics, in which Qi can correspond to matter as well as dispersed in non-material form.
In pertaining to allergic symptoms, TCM practitioners will point to the imbalance of the Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) and the Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi). Defensive Qi is described as the energy that circulates in the skin and muscle layer, functioning to defend the body from pathogenic factors (allergens). It is circulated by the Lung Qi and therefore can be affected by deficient Lung energy.
Nutritive Qi pervades the organs and flows in the blood vessels. It is the Qi that is activated with acupuncture needling. Strong Nutritive Qi and weak Defensive Qi allows easy invasion of the body by pathological factors like cold, heat, wind, and dampness. Both types of Qi are generated by Food and Air and therefore depend on the Qi of other organs such as Lung, Stomach, Spleen, Kidney and Heart.
How is it Treated?
The most common TCM diagnostic pattern for allergic rhinitis is Lung Qi and Kidney deficiency. Applying acupuncture, needles are placed on specific points to strengthen and move Lung Qi, along the nasal passages and strengthen the Kidney energy. TCM herbal prescription includes formulas to clear the mucus, strengthen the Defensive Qi, and also for prevention during the most vulnerable times for seasonal allergic rhinitis.
For acute symptoms, patients are advised to have treatment 1-2x/week along with herbal formulations such as Gui Zhi Tang(Cinnamon Twig Decoction), Ma Huang Tang (Ephedra Decoction), Xiao Qing Long Tang ( Minor Bluegreen Dragon Decoction), Cang Er Z San (Xanthium Powder), and Ge Gen Tang (Kudzu Decoction). Cupping modality is also used to open up the Lung-corresponding region on the upper back in the case of Wind and Damp invasion in the Lung channel.
In chronic cases and with seasonal occurrences, patients are advised to receive Kidney and Lung boosting and immune boosting treatments especially in the fall and winter months with preventative herbal formulations such as Yu Ping Feng San(Jade Screen Formula) and Huang Qi Jian ZhongTang (Astragalus Build the Middle Decoction).
Some notable herbs in TCM use for acute symptoms includes: Cang Er Zi (Xanthium or Cockleburr fruit) and Xin Yin Hua (Magnolia Flower) which are commonly used simultaneously and included in some of the above mentioned formulations to treat acute symptoms of rhinitis. For immune boosting and prevention Huang Qi (Astragalus) is most commonly used.
Treatment plan is tailored for each patient as their conditions vary. One patient may have generally lowered immune system from having undergone immune-suppressing therapies or suffered chronic illness. Another may have congenitally weak Spleen channel with chronically poor water metabolism, leading to congested fluids with any allergic reactions. Others may have suffered childhood asthma or had constant exposures to environmental toxins in the Lungs. It is important to treat acute symptoms immediately and follow up strengthening and prevention for the future.