Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Treating Hay Fever with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Spring - not everyone's favourite season

Spring time, with its longer and brighter days, is many people’s favourite time of year. Not so for chronic Hay fever sufferers.

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is caused by a reaction of the immune system to different types of pollen and moulds released by plants and trees in the Spring and Summer seasons. In some cases, there may be pre-existing allergies to other air-borne particles which result in and over-sensitisation of the nasal passages.

Depending of what type of pollen is the cause of the allergy, every year at some point between late February and the end of the Summer, some of us will have to deal with symptoms such as:
·         streaming eyes and nose.
·         incessant sneezing.
·         itching in the throat, nose or eyes.
·         a general feeling of tiredness and malaise.

Even people who do not suffer from chronic Hay fever may find themselves experiencing some of these symptoms at some point in their adult life. This is because in some years the weather conditions and pollen count conspire to fill the air with more particles than most of us can handle. For the same reason, chronic symptoms may vary from year to year, although in some cases chronic sufferers find that their symptoms seem to worsen with every Hay fever season. 

Chinese Medicine view of Hay fever:
According to Chinese Medicine, respiratory allergies as a whole involve an element of weakness of the immune system, referred to as deficiency of the Defensive Qi.

There may be other pathogenic factors contributing to symptoms, such as:
  •           Heat- usually manifesting as redness and feelings of heat in the whole body or just in the head, face, eyes, or nose.
  •           Cold – may result in sensations of cold in the body and head, copious and watery discharges, and symptoms that worsen with cold weather.
  •           Wind –in Chinese medicine Wind can invade parts of the body, particularly the head and neck where it can manifest as itching, sneezing, and symptoms similar to those of the common cold.
  •          Dampness – a pathogenic factor that can be thought of as thickened fluids in the interior of the body, it can easily result from an imbalanced diet as well as environmental dampness. Resulting symptoms may include copious, slightly thick discharges, heaviness of head and body, and general malaise.

Chinese Medicine treatment:
Mild-to-moderate Hay fever symptoms respond well to Acupuncture, especially if it is used early in the season before symptoms become stronger and continuous. 

On the one hand there is need to deal with the symptoms directly by using points in the head and face that strongly clear and decongest the nose and alleviate itching in the eyes, and points in the body that can help increase energy levels. I usually include specialised Ear acupuncture points which can have strong and often immediate effects on allergy-related itching and sneezing. On the other hand, the immune system must be regulated and the internal imbalances that have resulted in chronic symptoms need to be addressed. Here, points to clear Heat, Cold or Dampness and to strengthen the Defensive Qi may be used, as well as points to deal with other imbalances that may be part of the individual symptom picture.

Chinese herbal remedies may be given to regulate the immune system and to clear excess mucus, Heat, or Cold from the head and face so that there may be relief from congestion and itching. Chinese herbs are particularly recommended in cases where symptoms are more severe or long-term, and where Acupuncture alone is not producing long-lasting improvement.

Diet and life-style are always important factors when allergies are present. This is particularly true in cases of Hay fever that result from an over-reactive immune system rather than a weak one. This is characterised by strong symptoms that come and go, and which are often worsened or triggered by stress or by particular foods or other substances. Many of the cases of Hay fever I treat at my Acupuncture practice actually fall into this category. This type of allergy is not usually documented in Chinese Medicine texts as it is very much a result of our modern-day way of living with its chemical pollutants, excessive use of antibiotics, vaccinations, etc. Understanding the nature of Hay fever symptoms in these cases is essential as Acupuncture and Chinese herbs that “clear” the specific pathogens and allergens from the immune system need to be selected. For a successful treatment, it is also important to include appropriate dietary and life-style changes, as well as relaxation techniques so that the immune system has a better chance to be both released and strengthened by treatment.

Case study:
 Alice* was a social worker in her 50’s, who came to the clinic looking to have Acupuncture treatment for her hay fever in early March 2006. Alice had suffered from seasonal symptoms between March and June every year for over 15 years, and had taken antihistamines for the last 10. The last season had been particularly bad and she had been given a steroidal nasal spray as antihistamines were not working and she could hardly breathe. This year, her symptoms had started earlier than usual at the beginning of February and she was already taking antihistamines with little effect. She was feeling drowsy and exhausted, which she thought was a partly due to the medication and partly to the allergy itself. Alice was also experiencing some hot flushes and night sweats as part of the menopause and was reluctant to start steroid medication again as she felt it made these symptoms much worse.

Her Hay Fever symptoms on the first session were:
  • Watery, itchy eyes that could also be dry and sore in the evenings
  • Constant bouts of sneezing which she felt interfered with her work as she would experience them during meetings with co-workers and clients
  • Irritation in the nasal cavity
  • Frontal headaches and soreness around the nose and sinuses
  • Exhaustion

On questioning and examination, it became clear that Alice also had sensitivities to certain foods and that stress often worsened and sometimes even triggered symptoms. Alice’s menopausal symptoms also indicated that there was a lot of heat in her body which also became apparent in the redness of her nose and eyes.

Acupuncture treatment was focused on clearing congestion and heat from the head and face as well as clearing internal heat. The ear points for allergy and antihistamine were also used.

Alice felt some relief after the first session, she could breathe a bit more freely but other symptoms carried on with the same intensity. On the second week I suggested to Alice that she should try to reduce the consumption of dairy, wheat, and alcohol for a couple of weeks to give a chance to her body to clear excess mucus and heat. She took this to heart and within 4 sessions she was almost symptom-free and had much more energy.

I continued to see Alice every other week until the end of June when her symptoms would usually subside. She did not need to take any medication throughout that time and felt much healthier and stronger in herself although she did have a few episodes of sneezing and headaches in between. 

I encouraged Alice to contact me before the beginning of the season the following year so that we could try to prevent such strong symptoms from developing. This proved successful and Alice did not need to take any antihistamines at all, nor did she need acupuncture treatment so intensively in that year.

Alice has occasionally come back to the clinic since then, when she has felt her allergy is coming back. With a few Acupuncture sessions and some appropriate dietary changes, she has managed to be mostly symptom free without any medication for the last 5 years. 

*The name has been changed to protect the person's identity


  1. I am suffering from hay fever and post nasal drip so badly, its difficult. I really want to try your tips.

  2. Dear Mark, thanks for your comment. It is definitely worth trying to give up wheat and dairy completely for at least a couple of weeks. You may then notice a reduction in congestion and post-nasal drip. If this happens then stay away from these foods as much as you can, or have them very sparingly. Good luck with it!!