As an acupuncturist, I frequently field calls every spring asking if acupuncture can help with seasonal allergies. In a word, yes. Acupuncture can effectively treat the full range of allergy symptoms including: runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sinus congestion, sinus pressure and sinus headaches, blocked ears, wheezing, and coughing. Acupuncture is also effective at treating sinus infections that result from allergies.
Acupuncture can also treat secondary conditions that occur during allergy season such as eczema, hives and asthma.
The Asthma and Allergy foundation estimates that close to 40 million people are affected by allergies and that 30% of Americans suffer specifically from ragweed allergies, commonly known as hayfever1.
Some of the most common allergy triggers are pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold and ragweed. The pollen comes out early in the spring while ragweed typically arrives later in the summer.
So what actually causes your allergy symptoms? Great question. Glad I asked.
When you have allergies, your body considers the allergen a threat, and triggers the immune system to begin attacking the foreign invader. This cascade of events leads to a release of histamine from mast cells. The histamine is responsible for the allergy symptoms you experience. To combat this, allergy medications contain anti-histamines to reduce the immune system response and lessen the severity of symptoms.
Current Treatment Options
Antihistamines work well for short-term relief associated with allergy symptoms, however, they may have potential side effects such as drowsiness, headache, dry nose and mouth. Before you begin using an anti-histamine medication, it’s important that you inform your doctor about other medications you may be taking to avoid interactions2. One of the downsides of antihistamines is they do not treat the cause of your allergies.
Allergy shots may also be used for patients with severe allergies. Allergy shots are used to build up your immune systems reaction to the allergens, decreasing your sensitivity over time. Depending upon the severity of your allergy symptoms, you may be required to get 1-2 shots per week for several months when you first start treatment. Once you reach a maintenance dose, you will need to have shots every few weeks-potentially for several years3.
In addition to treating your symptoms, acupuncture has the ability to improve your immune system to make you less reactive to your allergy triggers over time. In Chinese medicine, we call this treating the root (the cause) and the branch (symptoms). In this case, the root is an over-sensitive immune system and the branch is the symptoms you experience every allergy season.
Acupuncture as a treatment is effective at opening the nasal passages, reducing inflammation in the sinus cavity and promoting drainage of the mucous congestion. Acupuncture also helps to relieve itchy, watery eyes and headaches. Acupuncture can help to open the lungs to improve breathing, wheezing and coughing.
In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine is effective in the treatment of allergies. Many Chinese herbal medicinals have anti-inflammatory properties, can boost the immune system and drain the sinus cavities.
Adding acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to your treatment regimen is a safe and effective way to treat your allergy symptoms. The important thing to remember is that your treatment will help you not only this season, but also in future allergy seasons.
Here are some things you can try on your own to help your allergies:
- If the pollen count is high, keep your windows closed
- Change your clothes after being outdoors
- Invest in an air purifier with a hepa filter
- Keep your house free of dust as much as possible
- Use hypo-allergenic sheets and pillow cases if necessary
- Use a neti-pot to keep your sinuses open
If your current treatments are not working effectively enough, call to find out more about how acupuncture can help you.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30#prev
- Webmd: http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/shots