Along with the warmth and sunshine that spring and summer often bring, comes for many people, the misery of hay fever. Typical symptoms include sneezing, running nose, coughing, wheezing and red itchy eyes. A staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from an allergy of one kind or another and this number is on the rise. Hay fever is the most common of these allergies with up to 40% of children suffering annually. Clearly this is not a natural state of affairs, as you would have thought we would have evolved ways deal with these things. We must be doing something wrong to our environment or ourselves to cause such a massive imbalance.
When you wander through the fields of our countryside you can see vast swathes of single crops, such as oilseed rape. This type of mass agriculture is clearly unnatural and must release vast amounts of pollen at any one time. However this cannot be the only cause as many people have allergic reactions to more naturally occurring pollens such as grass, silver birch and flowers. The problem therefore is more likely to be something that we are doing to ourselves.
In Chinese medicine hay fever is generally known as attack of Wind-Heat. Wind indicates that a pathogen has invaded the body from the outside, and the Heat is the shown in the body’s histamine response of redness, runniness and itchiness. The treatment principal is to expel this Wind-Heat from the body, using well-known acupuncture points that ‘release the exterior’. However this is only part of the problem. Why is it that some people get hay fever and others don’t, when we are all breathing the same air?
The answer here lies in what is known in TCM as a deficiency of Wei Qi. Wei Qi is our defensive energy and is largely dependent on the health and energy of our lungs. Our lungs are the interface between our inner body and the outside world. Air comes into the body through the nose and then into the blood via the lungs’ mucosal membranes. Along with this air comes all of the allergens, dust particles and pollutants that are in our atmosphere. A healthy lung that is full of Qi will create a barrier to stop any of these pathogens getting in to the body. A lung that is weak will be unable to filter effectively, allowing the pathogens to enter and cause problems. The treatment of hay fever is therefore a two part process. Firstly we must tonify the lung Qi before the season kicks in to hopefully stop the pathogens getting in. Secondly, if this doesn’t work, or you didn’t have the tonifying treatment in the first place, then we can use points that expel the pathogens from the body.
So what is causing this epidemic of deficient lungs? Well the answer as always, is wide and varied. I think we are now slowly coming to realise just how bad air pollution is for our health. This is coupled with the fact our immune systems are being compromised by many factors including antibiotics, vaccines, pesticides and toxic chemical exposure. Also from a Chinese medicine perspective we inherit many of our problems from our parents and our grandparents, so you may still be paying for the fact that your Granny used to smoke twenty Benson and Hedges a day!
Whatever the cause, I find it comforting that an ancient medicine still has ways of treating a very modern problem.