Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seasonal Allergies

 By Rosemary McDonough, L.Ac

More than one in six Canadians suffer from hay fever, known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, which is associated with the release of pollen from trees, flowers and grasses each spring and summer with the rag weed season lasting well until the killing frost of fall. Common symptoms include itchy eyes, nose and throat, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and breathing problems. If symptoms persist throughout the year and the allergens are dust, dust mites, animal dander or fungal spores, the condition is known as perennial allergic rhinitis.

Allergic reactions are said to occur when the immune system launches an attack against otherwise harmless substances.  What causes this over the top response from the immune system is still unclear but our genetic make-up is seen as the greatest contributing factor.  Indeed, if either or both parents have allergies, their children inherit a 60-65% chance of developing them too. 

The immune system is often weakened with stress, fatigue, poor diet and lack of physical exercise.  Combine these factors with the increased exposure to harsh chemicals in the environment and it is no wonder that allergies of all kinds are actually on the rise in the Canadian population. 
Two of the more popular treatments available to allergy sufferers are over the counter medications or immunotherapy, (allergy shots).  Thankfully, other options exist for those who no longer wish to endure the side effects from medications or those who have difficulty adhering to the 3-5 year allergy shot regimen. An important reduction in symptoms can be had simply by cutting back on dairy products as their presence in the body exacerbates the overproduction of mucous and phlegm.

People seeking a long term solution often turn to acupuncture.  That the World Health Organization recommends acupuncture as an effective way to treat allergies is not surprising as it is an approach that addresses immune system imbalances and provides a remarkable reduction of symptoms. Recently, one of my patients, who just finished a short series of allergy treatments remarked that this was the first summer he was able to enjoy being out of doors.

Stress management has also proven to be an important means of coping with allergies.  In fact, research over the past 30 years has demonstrated a link between chronic stress and suppression of the immune system. The practice of restorative yoga, meditation or Qi Gong, an ancient self-healing system, can calm the nervous system and reduce stress response, thus protecting and supporting the immune system.