Allergic Rhinitis is due to an antigen-antibody reaction in the nasal mucosa. If the antigens responsible are only pollen particles then it is called seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever. In hay fever the interaction between the inhaled allergen and the antibodies adhere to the surface of the mast cells, which line the nasal passages, and creates an explosion in the mast cell with a massive release of histamines. A higher number of mast cells are present in the nasal mucosa of individuals with hay fever and they probably increase as allergen stimulation continues. It seems to be this time of year since many of my patients are now coming in with slight reactions to the outdoor pollens.
In Chinese Medicine, hay fever is due to an over activity of the immune system to certain allergens. This is due to a deficiency of the Lungs and the Kidney’s Defensive-Qi systems, combined with the retention of chronic Wind in the nose. The deficiency of the Lung and Kidney are either due to heredity or due to problems during pregnancy or childbirth. Repeated invasions of Wind if untreated can lead to chronic conditions of Wind in the nose. As we know it is the Wind that stirs up the pollen. The Kidney channel emerges from between the Kidneys and flows up the spine to the top of the head and then down the nose and lips. So the Kidney’s are responsible for not only breathing but also for sneezing.
It is the hyperactivity of the immune system, which creates the reaction of the hay fever. It’s important in Chinese Medicine to give herbs in order to expel the Wind and to also build up the immune system over time so that the individual’s reaction can begin to change in response to the pollen. Usually in the condition of Wind-Cold the phlegm will be clear and watery. This indicates Lung deficiency, which also leads to Kidney deficiency as its root problem.
Hay fever often begins in early childhood although here in Sonoma County many people have moved up here and then started getting hay fever within a year or so of being here. The explanation of this occurrence still stems from a weak immune system as well as an inherent deficiency in both the Lungs and the Kidneys. This becomes a progressive decline of the Kidney-Qi.
As for the differences between seasonal and perennial hay fever, the latter simply occurs when there is a more severe Kidney deficiency. In patients over 50 there can be other factors such as Spleen deficiency, which produces more phlegm and can make things a bit more complicated. I have many patients in my office, which present with this combined problem. One in particular has been coming to me for five years now because she had such bad hay fever that she would get severe headaches and feel as though there was a band around her head. This is a very good example of Wind, a compromised immune system as well as a deficient Spleen since she was unable to get rid of her phlegm naturally and it would just seem to build up over time. I not only treated her with acupuncture but also put her on two herbal formulas. One to build her immune system and the other to build up her Spleen. Over time, she now no longer suffers from headaches or severe allergies and has very little response to the seasonal changes.
In seasonal hay fever I adapt the treatment according to the season. During the pollen season, attention is directed at treating the manifestation such as getting rid of Wind Cold. Outside the summer season, attention is directed at treating the Root such as notifying the Lung and Kidney Defensive-Qi energies and strengthening the Kidneys and the immune system. The best time to do this is towards the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn. In women it is necessary to strengthen the Kidney energy especially as they grow older since this seems to get more deficient over time. Herbs can help to notify the Kidney energy as well as the Spleen energy. I believe that this can only be strengthened with acupuncture and herbs and not western medications. I have had great success with hay fever with many patients over the last nineteen years so if you are having problems in this area and are uncomfortable I urge you to try acupuncture and herbs for some lasting results.