Perhaps you know the feeling, red, itching eyes, a runny nose, and sinus pressure. You're sneezing, tired and really out of it. Sound familiar? That's how I felt when seasonal allergies first hit me hard as a teenager. I was miserable and incapacitated.

I eventually found out though, that I didn't have to endure the misery. I discovered Oriental medicine which has successfully treated seasonal allergies for thousands of years by treating the root cause of illness not just the symptoms.

Allergies are a result of our bodies interacting with our environment– with foods, chemicals, and natural substances that we inhale, ingest or otherwise come in contact with. The immune system is designed to correctly identify between self and non-self. So when foreign bodies are encountered, the body reacts by manufacturing antibodies or releasing histamines.

The Oriental View Of Allergies

So what is the root cause of seasonal allergies? According to Oriental medicine, these allergies are due to repeated invasion of the lungs by wind and cold. Normally, the weather will not have any harmful effect on your body when it is strong enough to defend itself. The wind only becomes a cause of allergies when either your body is weak in relation to the weather or the weather is unseasonably excessive (too windy in the spring).
In modern medicine we speak of the immune system protecting the body. In Oriental medicine we have the concept of the Wei-Qi or Defensive Qi that circulates on the skin and muscles to protect us from invasion of wind and cold. It is only when this precious protection becomes compromised that we are vulnerable to the elements of nature. Our Defensive Qi can be weakened due to lack of sleep, high stress, negative emotional states, poor diet or a combination there of.

If our diet is fairly pure, we exercise regularly, our stress level is low, and our elimination is working well, we usually experience few allergic symptoms. However, if we eat out often and compromise our diet, have a high stress lifestyle, exercise less or not at all, and have some temporary constipation, we may experience sinus and respiratory problems, skin rashes or other allergic reactions. From the Oriental medical viewpoint these allergic reactions are the result of an imbalance in energies and organs in the body.

According to Oriental Medicine the following can contribute to allergies:

  • Overwork—putting in long hours on your job.
  • Excessive concentration—this wears down the spleen causes what Oriental medicine calls "dampness."
  • Dampness—causing excess mucus and pressure in the head.
  • Worry—causing Qi to slow down, making your body feel lethargic and slow like the heavy humidity of late summer.
  • Wind—itchy eyes, nose, and even ears are symptoms of wind. The symptoms of wind are like the wind itself - they appear suddenly and disappear suddenly, do not stay in one place.

Your Licensed Acupuncturist will start with an energetic assessment of your body using traditional pulse reading and tongue diagnosis. This instantly tells the practitioner the status of your Qi (pronounced "chee," meaning vital life energy). Gardening with allergies

With allergies we often find the pulse quality "slippery." The tongue coating may have a heavy yellow coating on it. These two factors together show an internal dampness. Dampness means the spleen is not working properly and there is an abnormal buildup of body fluids and excess secretions. The nature of dampness is heavy, sinking, and accumulating like a swamp. Dampness slows the body's systems down causing fatigue. It can feel like a band tied around the head.

Your Oriental medical practitioner is like a good detective, and will ferret out the "patterns of disharmony." From an Oriental medical perspective, the spleen has to do with our capacity to formulate ideas and focus attention. Excessive concentration can weaken the spleen, which is part of the digestive system and converts food essences into Qi. The spleen is associated with the earth element. Each element is associated with a specific emotion, in this case worry. Worry causes Qi to slow down. This sluggish movement of energy can make one feel lethargic and slow like the heavy humidity of late summer.

To re-balance your allergies, Licensed Acupuncturists "expel wind," "drain dampness", and strengthen your Defensive Qi to protect you from invasion of wind. Patients often drift off to sleep with the needles in and later emerge from the treatment room feeling extremely refreshed.

Benefits include breathing more freely with itchiness terminated. The acupuncture needles act like switches in your body's energy circuit. Since the problem was not the allergy itself but your reaction to the allergen, these switches reprogram your body so it doesn't react to pollen as a harmful substance.

The selection of points, the direction and depth of insertion, and the manipulation of needles in the patient's body all depend on a person's diagnosis. Each person is treated differently.


Your Licensed Acupuncturist will often prescribe herbs to drain dampness and expel wind. You might be advised her to eat foods that are slightly drying and warming and to stay away from cold foods such as raw foods (salads), fruit juices and iced drinks. Consumption of cold foods weakens the spleens digestive functions and causes interior dampness. Minimizing sweets, which weaken can the spleen and create more phlegm, is advisable. Moderate exercise such as yoga was also recommended to remedy allergy conditions.

It is important to understand that Oriental medicine is a preventative medicine. It is to your health's advantage to be treated at the beginning of your seasonal allergy seasons—Spring and Fall—to ward off the inevitable symptoms of red, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose and sneezing.

Allergies are just one of the many health concerns that Oriental medicine successfully treats. For more information about Oriental medicine seek out a licensed acupuncturist. A treatment series will leave you breathing easy and feeling energized.

Steven Sonmore, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac., has over 24 years professional experience in the healing arts, and is a licensed acupuncturist, certified by the NCCAOM, an Oriental bodywork therapist, and herbalist.  He has an active practice in Edina, MN.

Reprinted from Qi Journal, Autumn 2005