If you suffer from chronic springtime allergies, the best time to treat them naturally with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is for the duration of the winter. In East Asian medical philosophy, seasonal illnesses that pop up the same time each year respond best when treatment is started the season before. Specifically with spring time allergies, the suggested course of treatment is to receive weekly acupuncture treatments for the duration of the winter. It is best to add in a cupping therapy at the end of each acupuncture session and take Chinese herbal medicine to prepare respiratory and digestive systems for the future onslaught of springtime pollens and weather changes. And yes, I just said digestive system… I’ll explain why in a moment.
Weekly acupuncture utilizes specific acupuncture points to strengthen your immune system, respiratory tract, and to help clear out any lingering dampness and phlegm. I know that last part sounds weird, but a large part of seasonal allergies from the East Asian medicine view come from a certain level of dampness and phlegm already hanging out in the body before our immune system gets triggered by pollen or dust exposure and drastic weather changes. East Asian medical theory talks about both visible and invisible phlegm in the body. The visible stuff is obvious. Invisible phlegm just circulates and finds a spot to gum up the works so to speak- causing things like headaches, poor digestion, nausea, easily getting queasy, a heavy sensation in the limps, random lumps, cysts, fibroids, etc. Invisible phlegm is also related to strokes, parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and many autoimmune disorders. Basically, if you have invisible phlegm lurking around, it can have mild or severe symptoms. Bottom line, it will contribute to seasonal allergies.
Acupuncture can help your body deal with phlegm, but as you can imagine phlegm is sticky and stubborn. Herbal medicine, and a strong look at diet and lifestyle are often key components to dealing phlegm in the body, and thus your seasonal allergies. Weekly wintertime cupping at the end of an acupuncture session is also considered an important treatment to treat seasonal allergies. Cupping therapy involves using a vacuum in a glass or plastic cup and then placing it on the back muscles over the lungs. The vacuum draws the top layer of skin, fascia, and muscle up into the cup. This achieves two things: 1) with chronically tight muscles there is less blood flow to those muscles, and this treatment literally creates space between muscle fibers for proper blood flow to swoop in and exchange fresh, oxygen rich blood to your muscles for metabolic waste-filled blood. 2) by the same process, cupping pulls stored toxins from the muscle tissues into the lymphatic system for better/proper elimination by the body. A lot of toxins can end up in our muscle tissues such as nicotine tar from cigarettes, chlorine from swimming in a public pool, and gunk from food sensitivities, pollution exposure. In regards to spring time allergies, there is something about having poor circulation to your back muscles that leads to a higher level of metabolic waste and other toxins stored in these muscles that seems to correlate to seasonal allergies. The cleaner your system is in general-ie muscles free of these stored wastes and toxins, the less reactive people seem to be to seasonal pollens, dust, and wind-blown stuff.
Now cupping photos often look creepy, but most people love the feeling of cupping. Ask around and see if your friends liked their cupping experience or not. About 80-90% of my patients like the experience of cupping, but 10-20% just don’t care for the sensation. It is worth finding out if you like it for all the benefit cupping can do for you.
Now about the digestive system. Each organ system has a mother and child relationship in East Asian medicine. The stomach and pancreas/spleen are considered the mother of the lungs. To strengthen the lungs, it is best to strengthen both the lungs and the mother organs of the stomach, pancreas/spleen. Going back to the phlegm discussion, a poorly functioning digestive system will create more phlegm of both the visible and invisible kind in our bodies. There is also a significant role of our digestion plus the food we eat that may contribute to phlegm in the body.
Side note: the concept of the Spleen in East Asian medicine incorporates some of the actions of both the actual spleen and pancreas when you compare it to known physiology.
Now I know you are wondering how well will this work? A general treatment strategy for seasonal allergies involves treating weekly the entire season before for a two to three year period. The first year, you should see less severity in your allergy symptoms with improvement each year that you attempt treatment in the winter for your springtime allergies. By the third year, you should have minimal or no symptoms. But just like many situations in life, not everyone is able to resolve their seasonal allergies. This should be considered on a case by case basis, because there may be some other environmental, lifestyle, or constitutional factors that make these seasonal allergies difficult to treat. Check in with a local acupuncturist to get more information on how to treat seasonal allergies and what your individual treatment plan might call for. What I love about this medicine is that it is all about the individual.