Most people suffer from two main types of allergies: Seasonal and Perennial. Seasonal allergies, commonly called “hay fever,” result from exposure to airborne substances such as pollens that appear only during certain times of the year. These are the allergies you experience when the flowers bloom in spring, for instance. Perennial allergies result from exposure to substances such as house dust or house pets. Perennial allergies may occur during any season and may last year-round. Both seasonal and perennial allergies can cause symptoms of itching of the nose, roof of the mouth, back of the throat, and eyes. The nose runs, producing a clear watery discharge, and may become stuffed up. Other symptoms include sneezing, headache, coughing, wheezing, and irritability.
The immune system includes antibodies, white blood cells, mast cells, complement proteins, and other substances. It is our body’s defense against foreign substances called antigens. The immune system can overreact to certain antigens, called allergens, which are harmless in most people. The result is an allergic reaction. In other words, it isn’t the allergy itself that is the problem, but the person’s reaction to the allergen.
HOW CAN ACUPUNCTURE HELP ALLERGIES?
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of allergies when they are active and more importantly, can help to correct the immune system imbalance that causes the allergic response in the first place.
Acupuncture treatment affects allergies in 4 main ways:
1. Stabilize the immune system to moderate its response to invading allergens.
2. Decrease swelling and inflammation of local tissues to stop itching.
3. Decrease secretions of mucus membranes to reduce nasal discharge and watery eyes.
4. Strengthen your natural resistance to antigens.
Acupuncture points are selected based on your individual constellation of signs and symptoms. The focus of each treatment will be on relieving the troubling symptoms while simultaneously helping your body stop the allergic cascade. It is also very important to use acupuncture and herbs preventatively, when you are not having allergy problems. Certain acupuncture points have been shown to enhance the immune system’s performance. In addition, it is important to address any other lifestyle habits that may be detrimental to the immune system such as diet, lack of exercise and poor sleep. The frequency and severity of your allergic symptoms can be drastically reduced if the immune system is allowed to fully repair in the off-season.
HERBAL MEDICINE AND ALLERGIES
Much like when you go to the doctor for a prescription, herbal medicine can be used to alleviate your allergy symptoms. Your acupuncturist will compile an herbal formula based on your individual symptoms—this means that each patient receives different herbs for their varying complaints. For instance, a person with allergies that cause a runny nose and watery eyes will receive a different formula than someone who primarily complains of a headache and stuffy nose.
More often than not, a person with allergies will benefit greatly from combined acupuncture and herbal therapy, which should not cause any side effects if they are administered properly. Herbs are medicine that you can use daily, between acupuncture treatments, to sustain the effects of treatment and continually combat symptoms. Herbs can also be used safely in conjunction with western medicine treatment such as allergy shots or OTC meds.
COLD & FLU
Today we receive mixed signals from doctors about how to treat common colds and flu. The fear of widespread antibiotic resistance has many people avoiding the doctor altogether when they get sick. Left with over the counter medicines to treat symptoms so that we may continue working or school, it often can take up to two weeks for a cold to resolve. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be a valuable resource in the prevention of colds and flu and can also help us recover from them quickly and easily.
It is possible to use Chinese medicine to prevent the infections of colds and flu altogether or when caught early, to prevent them from turning into full-blown infections. Studies have shown that certain acupuncture points are effective in boosting the immune system. Herbal medicine can also be prescribed to enhance your immune system. When people around you are getting sick, receiving acupuncture treatments and taking preventive herbs will increase your ability to fight off illness and remain healthy. It is advisable to come for acupuncture once or twice a month during cold and flu season to help strengthen your immune system and keep you healthy.
If you do happen to catch a cold or the flu, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help lessen the severity and speed the recovery time of illness. If you visit your acupuncturist at the first signs of a cold or flu, such as sore throat, earache, fatigue or body aches, you can receive treatment and herbal medicine that will help to relieve symptoms and repair your immunity so that your body can fight off the infection. Acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas are tailored to each person’s individual symptoms no matter how severe, while at the same time they prevent the illness from going deeper into the body. Also, if an illness is lingering, frequent and regular treatments (twice a week for one to two weeks) will help stop the pattern of re-infection and weakening immunity so that you can finally get over your cold or flu.
It is common knowledge in Chinese medicine that it is possible to recover from an illness and be stronger for it. Using acupuncture and Chinese herbs during the recovery stage of infection is a good way to ensure you are completely over the infection and that your immune system is intact and ready to fight off the next bout of sickness that makes its way through your home or work environment. Two or three weekly treatments after an illness will help to restore balance in your immune, respiratory and digestive systems. Symptoms like lingering cough or phlegm or an irregularity in your elimination are common complaints after a severe bout with the flu.
The Benefits of an Alternative
Chinese medicine was developed to treat many different illnesses, but made particular advancements in its medical history when doctors began to look specifically at the treatment of viral and bacterial infections. Now, the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine is combined with what modern acupuncturists know about viral infections such as the flu. Complimentary and alternative medicine is receiving a lot of attention right now because of the fear of a wide-spread flu outbreak. With the benefits of vaccines uncertain, people are wisely looking for other ways to protect themselves against serious illness during the cold and flu months. It is our hope that, after reading this article, you now know that it is easy to use acupuncture and Chinese herbs as an inexpensive and effective way to prevent and treat colds and flu.
Ear Infections and Chronic Colds
Ear infections are very common in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. It is estimated that more than 10 million children are treated for ear infections each year in the United States. While antibiotics should always be considered in acute life-threatening conditions, Chinese Medicine offers an alternative to frequent antibiotic use for chronic illness. For non life-threatening conditions trying Chinese herbs before resorting to antibiotics will help reduce the trend of antibiotic overuse and the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Many Chinese herbs have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and others strengthen the immune function to fight infections. Your practitioner has micro-dose herbal preparations in easy to administer tinctures and teas for young children.
Digestion also plays a key role in the treatment of ear infections and chronic colds. Over feeding or eating hard to digest foods can lead to increased mucus production. This can cause body fluids and mucus to gather and stagnate in small areas like the ears and give bacteria an opportunity to gather and create an infection. Some helpful dietary suggestions are:
* It is best to reduce or eliminate sugar, excessive dairy products, chilled and frozen food and drinks, and raw vegetables from your child’s diet. Sugar causes a lot of phlegm production in adults and even more so in children.
* Dairy can be an important source of protein and vitamins but too much dairy will lead to mucus production, especially if your child is very young or unable to process dairy well.
* Cold foods are hard to digest because internally our temperature is hot- and enzymes to break down food need heat to perform.
* Raw vegetables are also inherently ‘cold’ and are hard to digest because of their high fiber content. Steaming or blanching veggies will ensure that your child is able to absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables.
* Breastfeeding for at least one year has proven to reduce the number of ear infections in children due in part to the antibodies found in breast milk.
Applying these simple diet principles at home will keep the child healthy after Chinese herbs and acupuncture are used to treat the underlying cause of the chronic infections.
RESPIRATORY & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Our immune system is responsible for keeping bacteria, viruses, microbes and toxins from interrupting the normal functions of the body. It is a complex system that involves specialized cells (such as T-cells, B cells, macrophages and others) that recognize and destroy foreign entities. Poor nutrition, stress, lack of sleep and repeated exposure to harmful agents all lead to a declining immune system that is no longer able to respond effectively when the need arises. And once it is compromised, a weak immune system results in frequent colds, allergies, the inability to fight off infections and general feelings of malaise.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are effective tools to strengthen a weakened immune system. The National Institute of Health and many published studies concur that acupuncture has far-reaching effects on immune system health from increasing red and white cell counts in compromised patients to increasing lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cell activity in patients fighting illness. This activity is accomplished through the needling of specific acupuncture points and their subsequent effect on the nervous system. Other effects of acupuncture relax the body, help a person sleep and promote healthy digestion all of which support a healthy immune system.
Many Chinese herbs prescribed in the clinic are recognized for enhancing the immune system and are combined synergistically to prevent and treat infections. A study published in Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Immunology found that astragalus (huang qi) increases both specific and non-specific immunity. Ganoderma (ling zhi) can increase the number of white blood cells and also inhibit the growth of various viruses and bacteria as presented in Cellular Immunology. According to the Chinese Medical Journal, Cordyceps (dong chong xia cao) has a strong effect on overall immunity by increasing lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Other herbs act to dry excessive mucus, relieve sore throat and sinus pressure, clear lung congestion and open airways.
Each person presents with different needs and deficiencies. Acupuncture points and Chinese herbs are tailored to the individual case to produce best results, but both offer a natural and effective way to strengthen the immune system. As Western science continues to study Traditional Chinese Medicine, we become more familiar with how it is able to influence our immunity in beneficial ways.