Allergies and Respiratory Health

The season of spring in San Francisco usually follows a rainy winter. With the sunshine and flowers come wind and pollens, which for many people signals the onset of allergy season. Tree pollens are the most prevalent pollens in the spring. Though acacia trees often get the blame, cypress and pines are also prolific pollinators. Grass and weed pollens follow in late spring and summer, and airborne mold spores can be found almost year round, as well as other common allergens such as dust, dust mites, and animal danders. While many over-the-counter remedies promise symptomatic relief, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believe that addressing the causes of allergies, treating the whole person, and focusing on balancing the immune system leads to substantial long-term health benefits.
What Are Allergies?
Allopathic Allergy Treatments
Respiratory Health and Chinese Medicine; Wind and Wei Qi
Muscle Testing

What Are Allergies?

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an example of misplaced immunity. It is a learned response by the immune system wherein rapid physiological changes resulting in itchy eyes and throat, sinus congestion and sneezing, asthma, and even diarrhea are produced.

Typically, exposure to an allergen such as cypress tree pollen elicits a massive release of IgE antibodies which attach to white blood cells known as mast cells. These cells are mostly located in the lungs and upper respiratory tract, the lining of the stomach and the skin. When these cells are stimulated, they release a number of chemicals including histamine which produce the allergic symptoms.

An IgE-mediated allergy results in almost immediate symptoms and may be life-long or "fixed." There are also other types of allergic responses, which can be transient. One example is the delayed hypersensitivity reaction in which the allergic response may take up to 72 hours to manifest itself. These immune system reactions are often IgG-mediated and are commonly seen with food as well as inhaled substances.

Additionally, practitioners may also use the term allergy to describe other immune system responses such as nonspecific hypersensitivity or intolerances which are not classic allergic reactions but produce undesirable health effects in response to environmental exposures.

One useful theory of allergy is the Total Load Theory, which states that for some people exposure to a single allergen may not be enough to trigger a symptomatic response; however, exposure to several allergens near the same time elicits an allergic response. For example, let's say that one is allergic to cow's milk and to cypress pollen. She may drink milk daily without any noticeable allergic response, however when cypress pollens are present, she suffers from allergic symptoms. By avoiding dairy products during pollen season, she may be able to lessen her "allergic load" and reduce her symptoms without reliance on symptomatic medications.

Top

Allopathic Allergy Treatments

Basic allopathic medical therapies often rely on inhibiting the allergic response; antihistamines (Chlor-trimetron, Benadryl, etc.) are a good example. Other types of drugs used to treat allergic rhinitis or asthma include ones which act on the nervous system (Albuterol, epinephrine), cortico-steroids (prednisone), and decongestants.

Western medicine also emphasizes the importance of avoiding the allergen if possible, and the use of air filters to decrease exposure. When avoidance or elimination is impossible or impractical, the next level of treatment may be desensitization, the injection of small amounts of the allergen in gradually increasing doses in order to neutralize over time the number of antibodies present.

Although allopathic medicine is very effective at treating the allergic response, side effects such as drowsiness in some people, immune system suppression or over-reliance on medications cause many to seek alternative approaches. Many turn to their acupuncturist for advice and treatment.

Top

Respiratory Health and Chinese Medicine; Wind and Wei Qi

Traditional Chinese medicine often views allergic rhinitis as related to Wind, noting that symptoms come and go rapidly, cause congestion, and make the person want to avoid windy situations. This Wind often coexists with a deficiency of the Protective or Wei Qi. The nearest thing we associate with the Wei Qi in the west is resistance to colds and other respiratory infections. People with Wei Qi deficiency catch colds easily, and allergy symptoms may be particularly bad in the spring or fall (or Twin Peaks in the summer), seasons which are generally windy.

The acupuncturist also looks for constitutional or more deeply-rooted signs in each person who presents with allergic symptoms. The principle here is treating the whole person. Often people with chronic allergies show signs of Spleen or Kidney Deficiency as well as Lung signs according to TCM. The goal of the acupuncturist is to develop a plan which addresses the person's acute symptoms and provides relief, while addressing the underlying immune system imbalance which is thought to be at the root of the person's allergy problems. Treatments often include dietary modification, the use of specifically chosen herbal formulas, and acupuncture.

Top
Let's look briefly at an example of TCM treatment for allergies. John presented with acute allergy symptoms of one-month's duration which included sneezing, runny nose with lots of watery phlegm, extreme fatigue and occasional loose stools. After taking his history and doing an examination, his acupuncturist assessed his condition according to TCM as Wei Qi Deficiency resulting from a weakness of the Lung and Spleen. In addition to general recommendations for his condition, John was given Minor Blue Dragon formula which has decongestant properties for those with copious clear phlegm, as well as Astra 8, an herbal formula designed to tonify the Lung and Spleen Qi. He was also told to minimize or avoid dairy products and excessively sweet or spicy foods. As John's condition improved, he and his acupuncturist developed a plan to strengthen his immune system in preparation for next year's allergy season. This plan included replacing coffee with green tea, which is rich in catechins which exert anti-allergy effects, as well as taking quercetin, a bioflavonoid which has been shown to stabilize mast cells thus slowing the release of histamine and other chemicals related to allergic symptoms.

We can see that a comprehensive plan consists of both general therapies as well as an individualized approach to each patient. After allergy symptoms are managed effectively, we then begin to address the long range plan of modifying the person's response to his environment which, if successful, reduces the frequency and severity of future allergic responses.

Top

Muscle Testing for Allergy Diagnosis

Kinesiology, or muscle testing, is an increasingly common method used by various practitioners to test for individual allergies or sensitivities. In this method of testing, a person holds a container of the test substance while the practitioner tests to determine if weakness occurs in a muscle, thus suggesting that the person is sensitive to the substance.

A recent study designed to assess the effectiveness of this technique was reported in the September 2001 issue of Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Seven people with confirmed wasp venom allergy were examined by four practitioners who were randomly given 20 bottles to test, 10 containing wasp venom and 10 containing an inactive placebo. Neither the person tested nor the practitioner knew which bottle was which.

The results indicated that kinesiology as a diagnostic tool was no more useful than random guessing and suggested that it may be of no value in testing for an allergy. Instead, this clinic relies on laboratory testing and other diagnostic methods.

Top

For more information about allergies, please also see:
Springtime Allergies
Tips for Lung Health

Return to
Conditions We Treat Page

Return to
Women's Health Page

SAN FRANCISCO NATURAL MEDICINE
formerly: SOMA Acupuncture & Natural Health Clinic
Carl Hangee-Bauer, ND, LAc
Erika Horowitz, ND • Natalie Metz, ND
Jacqueline Blakely, ND, LAc • Nafysa Parpia, ND • Stephen Meeneghan, ND, LAc
1615 20th St • San Francisco CA 94107 • 415-643-6600

Naturopathic Medicine • Acupuncture • Herbal Medicine • Supplements
Nutrition • Women's Health • Bioidentical Hormones
Smoking Cessation • IV Nutrient Therapy • Detoxification


Please visit our other sites! www.sffatiguerelief.com | www.sfibsrelief.com

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians Logo CNDA Logo