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Allergies and Immunity

What Is The Western View?

lotus flowersFrom a Western point of view, allergic rhinitis is caused by an overreaction of the body’s immune system to foreign particulates or allergens including, pollen, dust, molds, dander and environmental toxins. An inflammatory response occurs, releasing histamines and leukotrienes, which cause sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, nasal congestion, headache, runny nose, and possibly sinusitis.

What Is The Western Treatment?

Western Medicine tends to treat allergies in three ways. The first approach involves the use of anti-histamines or anti-leukotrienes, either over the counter (i.e. claritin, benadryl) or by prescription (i.e. Allegra, Singulair). The second type of treatment involves the use of nasal steroids such as nasonex or flonase to reduce swelling and inflammation from the histamine response. Finally, some are treated with injections to the particular allergen to decrease the body’s histamine response.

How Can Oriental Medicine Help Me?

Oriental medicine views allergies as a deficiency in the body’s immune system or Defensive qi.  A strong Defensive qi prevents the body from responding to allergens in any adverse way. However, when one’s Defensive qi is weak, the body reacts to allergens via an inflammatory response. This response to the allergen is known as “Wind”.  Wind could be likened to “air-borne pathogens”. This Wind causes the symptoms of allergies by disrupting the normal energetic functions of the body.  The Lungs, which are the immune system’s most vulnerable organ, are especially susceptible to Wind invasions. Oriental medicine recognizes a distinction between Wind Cold and Wind Heat. Wind Cold manifests with predominant cold symptoms such as clear phlegm, sneezing, body aches, watery eyes; Wind Heat exhibits predominantly heat symptoms such as green or yellow phlegm, itchy, red eyes, and possibly associated fever.

What Does Oriental Medical Treatment Entail?

A randomized controlled study looked at true vs. sham acupuncture and concluded that active acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture in decreasing the symptom scores for persistent allergic rhinitis and increasing the symptom-free days. No serious adverse effect was identified. (1)

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been shown to be effective in treating allergies by stimulating and strengthening the body’s immune system, regulating the immune response and alleviating the signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis. A randomized controlled study looked at 52 patients with chronic seasonal allergic rhinitis. The control received acupuncture to non-acupuncture or sham points and a non-specific herbal decoction. The study group received a semi-standardized treatment of acupuncture and a prescribed Chinese herbal decoction. The results showed an 85% improvement in the study group and only a 40% improvement in the control group. The study group also showed a significant improvement after treatment on the VAS (visual analogue scale) and the rhinitis quality of life questionnaire. (2)

Treatments are designed to each individual’s needs depending on what signs and symptoms are present. Studies show that treatments are more effective when patients take herbs specifically for their needs in addition to acupuncture. This also cuts down the overall cost of treatment, as the patient gets daily support between the acupuncture treatments, thus requiring fewer acupuncture treatments.

How Does Oriental Medicine View The Immune System?

The body’s immune system or Defensive qi regulates the complex interactions between normal cells and possible pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, micro-organisms and other toxins to prevent or fight infections. The body depends on proper sleep, nutritious diet, and exercise to maintain this defense system. Other factors such as over exposure to harmful pathogens, excessive use of antibiotics, and stress can weaken a healthy immune system. Once depleted, we become more susceptible to colds, flus, and allergies. At the same time, it is more difficult to overcome these ailments.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been used for thousands of years to improve and support the immune system. In addition, it can support the body by eliminating the pathogens and can reduce and/or resolve the symptoms from such infections.


1. Daniel K. Ng, FRCP, et al. A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Childhood Persistent Allergic Rhinitis. Pediatrics. Vol. 114 No. 5 November 2004, pp. 1242-1247

2. Brinkhaus, B., et al. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal Medicine in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized-controlled clinical trial. Allergy, 2004; 59 (9), 953-960.