Acupuncture: A Natural Approach to Hay Fever Treatment
Finding an effective hay fever treatment often comes up top of the list of people’s health priorities at this time of year, and this should be of little surprise if we consider that hay fever is the most common allergy in the UK. Hay fever symptoms, which include a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, headaches, or sinus and ear pain, can be a source of both real frustration and serious discomfort. The severity of the condition varies considerably not just when comparing sufferers, but also when looking at fluctuations in a person’s symptoms annually, daily or even hourly. So why are there such variations and could these differences hold some vital clues on how sufferers might better manage their condition?
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE GET HAY FEVER?
Hay fever is a seasonal allergic reaction, resulting from a person’s sensitivity to the pollens and mould spores from plants such as trees, grass, flowers and weeds. The peak time for the condition will depend on which pollens and mould spores the individual is allergic to. If grass is the culprit, symptoms will flare up between May and July, whereas the onset for tree pollens will be as early as February stretching out into June, and for weeds it will be from June to September. Moulds dominate during the autumn as the dampness builds up, and this is the time when spores are most likely to become airborne. Within these timeframes, exposure to pollen and mould spores will depend on how much time we spend outdoors, and also on the allergen counts in the air. These counts are affected by the weather, especially when heat follows wet spells, encouraging rapid plant growth which releases pollen, as well as in windy conditions, which enable pollen and mould spores to spread. Some plants rely on airborne pollination rather than insects and are therefore designed to spread their pollen widely and easily. As our climate gets warmer and the weather more erratic, the duration of seasonal allergies from one year to the next is likely to be extended.
Hay fever is certainly on the rise in the UK. However, our climate is only part of the story as rates of allergy are generally increasing too, suggesting other factors are at play. Although such increases are not yet fully understood, it has been suggested that the modern urban lifestyles we tend to lead – spending too much time indoors, pollution, over-medicating, high levels of stress, eating diets that include too much-processed food and sugar – are interfering with our immune functions, making us more prone to allergies. For it is an overly reactive immune system which results in a heightened sensitivity to specific allergens, rather than something inherently irritating or toxic to humans in pollens and mould spores. A properly functioning immune system is able to fight off infections by checking for potential threats, correctly and swiftly identifying attacks to the body and responding appropriately. In the case of an allergy, the body wrongly identifies a threat and produces antibodies to stop the spread of what it believes to be a disease-causing organism.
This combination of a climatic influence and an inappropriate immune response may seem to complicate matters when it comes to hay fever treatment, but not for acupuncture. This is because such a combination fits perfectly with how acupuncture addresses health conditions.
TURNING THE PROBLEM INTO THE SOLUTION
Oriental Medicine evolved as a system of medicine which is closely aligned to the natural world to which we belong and in which we live. This is reflected in the name of acupuncture points themselves, such as ‘Joining of the Valleys’ or ‘Kunlun Mountains’, and the idea is that, as in nature, areas of the body have variations in levels of moisture, temperature, and so on. Climatic factors are also used to describe the manner in which the body is affected by a health condition. For instance, Wind in acupuncture relates to a condition that may flare up suddenly or move around, whereas Dampness has a tendency to linger and create a sense of heaviness or sluggishness.
Aligning the human body with nature in this way means that in acupuncture the climatic influences and seasons – clear factors in the case of hay fever – and even the time of day, can help select the best approach to hay fever treatment and the specific acupuncture points that are used. Additional tools to stabilise and rebalance the body’s reaction to external factors may be included too, for example with moxibustion, a technique that increases warmth and circulation, or Gua Sha, a localised massage that can move stagnation or clear excessive heat or cold.
Oriental Medicine is also well suited to dealing with the often poorly understood internal triggers of hay fever and in particular the inappropriate immune response that sets off the symptoms, as it is a system of medicine that concentrates on patterns of imbalance rather than simple cause and effect. As such, at the start of an acupuncture session, you will be asked a wide range of questions about your medical history, everyday health, wellbeing as well as your specific symptoms in order to target the root cause of the problem.
Gathering this information will reveal, together with clues provided by other physical signs such as the speed or strength of pulses, colour and moistness of the tongue and heat distribution across the torso, which organs and acupuncture channels are underperforming or depleted. This approach allows us to move away from just looking at the symptoms, to really finetune the treatment to why you have developed or are suffering with hay fever. For example, the immune system and upper respiratory conditions, including hay fever are generally considered in acupuncture to have a connection with our Lung energy. However, it could be that the diagnostic clues show that it is in fact your Kidney energy (often depleted over the winter months and in times of high stress) that needs a boost, or even a sluggish Liver energy which, if weakened, often manifests in the spring time and may be accompanied by other tell-tale signs of imbalance such as headaches, cramps or frustration.
THE NATURAL WAY TO GET ON TOP OF YOUR HAY FEVER
While we all like quick fixes when it comes to our health, the reality is that the best results often come from more sustained efforts. And this is certainly true for hay fever. By simply making a few changes to your everyday routines, rather than relying on medication which often have unpleasant side-effects, you can create a longer-term strategy that can help you deal naturally with hay fever while also improving your overall health and wellbeing. Here are three changes you can make today:
1. Have acupuncture: the treatment is designed to trigger the body’s own ability to self-repair, regulating all functions and therefore initiating the changes that will reinstate balance and reduce the sensitivity to the allergens. Known to act as an anti-inflammatory, acupuncture can bring immediate changes, which can then be sustained through occasional or seasonal top-up sessions. Each treatment is tailored to your specific situation and therefore provides a highly personalised approach to tackling the hay fever.
Acupuncture also induces a state of relaxation, providing an important antidote to the heightened stress that may be making the hay fever worse or which the hay fever itself may be contributing to. People often notice that their allergies, including hay fever are at their worst when they are stressed, so addressing this is key. But, of course, feeling less stressed after your acupuncture session isn’t just helpful to stay on top of the hay fever, it is also supportive of your overall mental wellbeing, the quality of your sleep and those wired responses to stressful situations.
2. Diet: Allergies and poor immune function may be the result of an imbalance in your gut bacteria, so give your gut microbiome a healthy boost by including foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough, kefir, miso, colourful fresh vegetables and fruits, and avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible. Additionally, Oriental Medicine would encourage for hay fever the inclusion of foods that reduce cold in your system (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon), cleanse the Liver (olives, tea – green, black or nettle, green leafy vegetables, lemons) and are supportive of your Kidney energy (pulses and beans, barley, tofu, raspberries, asparagus, pistachio, black sesame seeds, raw honey).
3. Fresh Air: Exercise and deep breathing are good to support flow in the Lung channel and can also help release the stagnant energy that can lead to both mental and physical imbalances. Any activity that encourages deep breathing, such as Qi Gong, yoga, meditation, swimming, running or cycling will be beneficial. When possible and when your hay fever symptoms are absent, spend as much time outdoors as possible, especially in parks, gardens or the countryside, as this will have a cleansing effect on both body and mind, while also getting you exposed to a wider range of organisms that can benefit your microbiome.
As the hay fever season reaches its peak for many sufferers, there has never been a better time to try out a new approach to hay fever treatment, and by implementing these changes, not only will you have a better chance of controlling your hay fever, it will also help you achieve other health goals and improve your immune system.
Lisa Lee, Lic.Ac. PhD, is a fully qualified Five Element acupuncturist who works from her clinic on Harley Street. She treats patients looking for help with a wide range of health and wellbeing issues and has specialist interests in fertility, anxiety, and cancer support. www.lisaleeacu.com