I’ve struggled with seasonal allergies for years. The sneezing, sniffling, itchy throat and watery eyes can go from annoying to debilitating. Here’s another article I recently wrote for our clinic patients. This spring, let’s enjoy the outdoors!
Spring! The mild temperatures, the daffodils in bloom, downtown full of SunRun-ners, our neighborhood streets densely lined with cherry blossoms, the opening of farmers markets and (the theoretical possibility of) less rain in the near future. We are drawn outdoors by the inviting weather and community events only to be faced with that dreaded sneezing and sniffling.
More than one in six Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies or hayfever. The sneezing, congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes and stuffy ears can occur anytime (or for the whole duration) between March and November. And for many of us, our immune systems’ overactive response to allergens such as pollen and spores can really disrupt our daily lives. Antihistamines can help relieve some symptoms but can cause mouth dryness, dizziness, drowsiness, restlessness and other undesirable effects.
For thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine has identified the close connection between our respiratory (breathing) system and our digestion. We now know that our digestive tract is home to 80% of our immune cells – it’s no wonder our digestive health affects our allergies!
Strengthening our digestive system to better extract nourishment from food is at the basis of Chinese medicine recommendations for strengthening the lungs and preventing allergies. First, avoid excess cold and raw foods as this dampens the digestive ‘fire’ needed for proper breakdown of food. Next, avoid excess dairy, fats and sweet/sugary foods as much as possible and avoid all known food allergies. Instead, choose mild flavours, clear broths and lots of gently cooked vegetables. We have also found Chinese herbal formulae aimed at supporting digestion and modulating immune responses to be particularly helpful in many patients.
In addition to processing food, in Chinese medicine ‘digestion’ also refers to the processing of information and emotions. Too much mental work such as prolonged periods of studying or brooding on problems can also weaken our digestive system, in turn, making us more prone to seasonal allergies. This connection may explain why we search for food when we are actually in need of emotional comfort. Identifying and acknowledging our needs, whether it means joining a support group or being kinder to ourselves, contributes to reduced stress, improved digestion and less allergy symptoms.
This year, incorporate small changes now to prevent sneezing and sniffling in the coming months!
Photo courtesy of A. Graber