Lately, I’ve been thinking lots about seasonal allergies. It’s been a dry summer here in Minnesota, which means two things: no mosquitoes (good) and a bumper crop of ragweed (bad). I see the golden-yellow spikes of ragweed adding color to the empty fields and marshes I drive past on my way home from work. As glorious as ragweed is to the local landscape, it’s the cause of hell on earth for anyone who suffers from hay fever. And late summer in Minnesota is hay fever season.
A second reason I’ve had allergies on my mind is because I just bought a new vacuum cleaner. It’s hot stuff; it has wind tunnel technology, a HEPA filter, and sucking power that boggles the mind. It’s also bagless, so it has a visible canister that can be easily popped out and emptied whenever it gets full. The only thing better would be all these features on a model that I can ride.
On the first pass in my house with this new vacuum, I had to empty the canister about a dozen times! I’ve been vacuuming regularly for years, but this was something else. I have a large cat, and with what I emptied out of the vacuum, I could have easily stuffed him three or four times over. This underscored the quantity of allergens floating around my own, fairly clean, home.
Whether pollen or pet dander, practitioners of Chinese medicine consider allergens external pathogens—invaders from the outside that can make you sick, especially if you’re susceptibl to them. However, you have a defense system called Wei Qi that guards the exterior of your body like a protective bubble or shield. When Wei Qi is weak, all kinds of pathogens, usually carried by the wind, can get into your body and cause colds, flu, and allergies.
Usually, the first organ affected when outside pathogens attack are your lungs. You may have a cough, sore throat, or a runny or stuffy nose—all considered part of the lung organ system in Chinese medicine. Your lungs are the most exterior organ, because they are constantly in contact with the outside world through the air you breathe. As the most exterior organ, your lungs also guard the exterior of your body, but weak lungs are not the primary cause of weak Wei Qi.
Qi, or energy in general, is made through the air you breathe, but more importantly by eating good food and digesting it well. Your spleen organ system is responsible for turning food into energy, nutrients, and blood. If you’re not eating well, have digestive problems, are stressed out, or just plain run down, chances are your energy (Qi) is weak, including your Wei Qi. Do you suffer from allergies or seem to catch every cold that’s going around? That’s weak Wei Qi, which means your defense from all those external pathogens is sub-par.
The solution to dealing with allergies is two-fold. On the superficial level, you need to deal with the pathogens (allergens) that are causing your symptoms. In the case of seasonal allergies, pollen is like a toxic dust that settles on your clothes, hair, carpet, and even your pets. Some simple steps to reduce your exposure include:
-Shower in the evening to get the day’s pollen off your skin and out of your hair.
-Close your windows when the weather is especially dry and windy.
-Wash your hands after handling a pet that’s been outside.
-Get a really good vacuum, as pollen is extremely fine and will settle on your floors. Dusting is good, too.
-Get a Neti Pot and use it. (It’s a small pot to help you cleanse your nasal passages, and can be found at most drug stores.)
-Change your clothes after you’ve been working or exercising outdoors.
On a deeper level, strengthening your Wei Qi can help you avoid allergy meltdowns in the future. You can do so by choosing and preparing foods that are healthy and easy to digest. Some ways to best do that include:
-Eat your vegetables and even your fruits cooked. They’re easier to digest. Don’t think you can cook fruits? Think fruit compote, apple/berry sauce, or sauté them in a little cinnamon and a tablespoon of water.
-Aim to eat whole foods in their original form. If a food’s ingredient list is long and you can’t pronounce the ingredients, put it back on the shelf.
-Avoid nutrient-dense foods like concentrated juices, protein drinks, and energy/protein bars that claim to be an entire meal.
-Steer clear of sugar and sweeteners—it bogs down your digestion.
-Ditto for saturated fats.
-Ditto for lots of ice cold foods.
-Avoid dairy if you’re having really bad allergy symptoms. Dairy is very phlegm producing.
Finally, turning to acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be an effective way to deal with allergies. A good practitioner will combine acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and food therapy to help strengthen your spleen system, boost Wei Qi, and alleviate current symptoms. The best way to do this is to work with your acupuncturist before your allergies act up, if possible. By doing so, you can face the assault of allergy season with a stronger defense system.