When I was a kid, allergies were something that was not on my radar. I grew up in a large family, and one of my sisters seemed to suffer for all the rest of us. She walked around the house with red eyes, a stuffy nose, and a tissue in hand. I know she was miserable, but I couldn’t relate.
Actually I couldn’t relate until I was about 30 and living in Colorado. One spring I found myself completely stuffed up with itchy eyes, ears, and entire face. I felt like my brains had been removed and replaced with cotton. Could this be allergies? As a grown-up?
Turns out that you can develop allergies at any time in your life. And it also turned out that for me it was the Russian Olive trees in bloom that were making my life a living hell.
Lately, I’ve been thinking lots about seasonal allergies. It’s the end of summer and drying out here in Minnesota, which means two things: no mosquitoes (good) and a bumper crop of ragweed (bad). I see the golden-yellow spikes of ragweed in full bloom in the empty fields and marshes throughout the countryside. While it adds color the the landscape, ragweed is like kryptonite to anyone who suffers from hay fever.
We practitioners of Chinese medicine consider allergens to be external pathogens–invaders from the outside that can make you sick, especially if you’re susceptible to them. However, you have a defense system called Wei Qi that guards the exterior of your body like a protective bubble or shield. When Wei Qi is weak, all kinds of pathogens, usually carried by the wind, can get into your body and cause colds, flu, and allergies.
Wei Qi is connected to your Lung system in Chinese medicine, because in most cases it’s the first organ that’s affected when pathogens attack. You may have a cough, sore throat, or runny/stuffy nose–all considered to be symptoms associated with your Lungs. In addition, your Lungs are the most exterior of all your organs, because they are constantly in contact with the outside world through the air you breathe. So you can say that your Lungs guard the exterior of your body, and weak Lungs are the primary cause of weak Wei Qi.
The solution to dealing with allergies is two-fold in Chinese medicine. On the superficial level, you need to deal with the pathogens (allergens) that are causing your symptoms. At a deeper level, you will need to strengthen your protective Wei Qi, which can be done through a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and in some cases food therapy.
The short-term fix is to think of pollen as a toxic dust that settles on your clothes, hair, carpet, and even your pets. If you can get rid of the pollen, you can decrease your symptoms dramatically. Here are a few steps:
-Close your windows, especially when the weather is dry and windy.
-Shower in the evening to get the day’s toxic dust off your skin and out of your hair.
-Wash your hands after handling a pet that’s been outside. Wipe down your pet with a moist towel when it comes indoors (and wash your hands!).
-Get a really good vacuum, as pollen is extremely fine and will settle on your floors and pretty much everywhere else. Dusting is good, too. And you really should get someone who does not suffer from allergies to dust and vacuum for you.
-Change your clothes after you’ve been working outdoors.
-Get a Neti Pot and use it. (It’s a small pot to help you cleanse your nasal passages, and can be found at most drug stores.)
-A good time to go outdoors during allergy season is just after it has rained. The moisture washes away some of the pollen and causes it to settle for a day or two.
I still suffer from allergies for about two weeks in early June when the Russian Olives are blooming. However, here in Minnesota, there are far fewer of these evil trees. During those two weeks, I stay inside, take a lot of showers, and wait it out.