Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is an allergic response to indoor or outdoor airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander.
For many people, hay fever gets worse at certain times of year, especially in the spring, summer or fall, although some people have hay fever year-round. Hay fever affects about one in five people and can begin at any age but is most likely to develop in childhood or early adulthood.
Hay fever is due to an over-reactivity of the immune system where the immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless airborne substance as something harmful and starts producing allergy-causing antibodies in a process called sensitization.
Every time the body comes in contact with the substance after that, these antibodies recognize it and signal the immune system to react, releasing chemicals (such as histamine) that lead to the irritating symptoms of hay fever.
Hay fever can be triggered by seasonal or year-round allergens such as tree pollen, grass pollen, weed pollen, and spores from fungi and molds, which can be worse in warm-weather months, as well as dust mites, cockroaches, pet dander, or spores from indoor and outdoor fungi and molds.
The symptoms usually develop immediately after exposure to allergens and often start or worsen at a particular time of year and can include runny nose and nasal congestion, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing, cough, itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat, sinus pressure and facial pain, swollen, blue-coloured skin under the eyes (allergic shiners), and decreased sense of smell or taste.
More intrusive symptoms include sleeplessness, fatigue and irritability. Treatment may involve over-the-counter or prescription medications to relieve symptoms. Medications may include nasal or pill-form corticosteroids to treat and prevent the inflammation symptoms, antihistamines for itching, sneezing and runny nose, decongestants, or medications that have an effect on the immune system.
With Chinese medicine, the lungs, kidney, and immune system often play a role in the cause of hay fever. Hay fever is very often due to a kidney deficiency because the kidneys are responsible for breathing as well as sneezing. The kidneys also play a role in our immune system so when the kidneys are weak, our immunity is affected. In the case of hay fever, this manifests as a hyper-reactive immune response.
The more severe the kidney deficiency, the more frequently the allergic reactions are experienced—this includes year-round allergies to things such as dust, fungus or animals. A kidney deficiency leaves the body susceptible to external environmental invasions, leading to an invasion of wind in the nose, and this is when allergy symptoms begin to occur.
Wind-cold pattern will produce symptoms of sneezing, profuse runny nose with white-watery discharge, pale complexion, stuffed nose, slight headache and no thirst. Wind-heat pattern will lead to sneezing, runny nose with white-watery discharge, itchy throat, itchy red eyes and slight thirst. During allergy season, frequent acupuncture treatments focus on alleviating the symptoms experienced and often yield a quick response.
Patients may notice a decrease in their nose stuffiness, sneezes and number of itching episodes around the eyes, as well as an increase in overall energy levels. Outside of allergy season, treatments may be less frequent and focus on correcting the underlying imbalance in order to strengthen the body and boost the immune system in order to prevent future allergic reactions from reoccurring.
Acupuncture offers effective relief for hay fever, either as an alternative to conventional methods of treatment, or in conjunction with them, and for sufferers of hay fever, is well worth considering.