Coping with Allergies

Coping with Allergy Season…

    by Heather McIver, L.Ac.

When I moved back to NC from attending acupuncture school in Colorado, I was shocked to find that I could no longer function from about Mother’s Day until mid June.  If I tried to venture outside I was immediately struck with drippy nose and eyes so red, swollen and itchy I wanted to pay someone to rip them out of my head. Apparently, I had developed an allergy to hay…and lucky me, I lived on a hay farm.  So, after trying a couple of the standard Chinese “allergy” formulas with only minimual success, I broke down and took the big guns. I tried Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra. They all made me sleepy and none of them controlled my symptoms enough that I could even hold a conversation. I remember being so mad! “I finally take that stuff and then it didn’t even work!”

There was nothing to do but to go back to my training. I sat down and re-assessed my symptoms from the perspective of Chinese Medicine. I tried to think as simplistically as possible. It was springtime and spring is associated with the Liver in Chinese medicine. My primary symptom was my red, itchy eyes. The eyes are also associated with the Liver. I was really irritated and frustrated…also Liver. The “standard” allergy formulas focus more on the Lung and Spleen, so maybe that’s why they weren’t helping. Of course the Lung was also affected…my drippy nose and constant sneezing could attest to that. However, there is a diagnosis in Chinese Medicine called, “Liver overacting on the Lung” in which you can see both Liver and Lung symptoms.

Seemed a good place to start. So I started with a very common Liver formula called, “Free and Easy Wanderer”  Then I added herbs to dry up my congestion and herbs to specifically target my red, itchy eyes.  And guess what? It began to work instantly. Over the next few days, I added and subtracted herbs to further focus the effects of the formula. Within a week or two, I was fully functional. I wasn’t ready to go running through the hay fields, but I could walk outside and do my job and have fun with friends again.

The point of this story, is not really about my allergies, but rather to illustrate the importance of the individual diagnosis. In some of my patients, the “standard” allergy formulas work beautifully. But that is because their pattern of symptoms, their “diagnosis,” match the diagnosis that the formula was designed to treat.

Just as in the research study described in the sidebar, while standard protocols can be helpful for a lot of people, they treat only the middle of the bell curve. To really get at the root of an individual’s problem, we need to actuallly look at the individual. We need to define exactly how a particular body is becoming out of balance, in order to restore balance.

There is a saying in Chinese Medicine, “Same disease, many treatments. Different disease, same treatment.” This is precisely why 4 different patients with infertility may receive radically different treatments. Or why the formula I used to treat my allergies might also be used to treat PMS or hepatitis. In my mind, this is what separates Chinese Medicine from other modalities. Of course, comprehensive individualized diagnosis is much harder than treating everyone the same. It takes more investigation, more observation, more discernment and more trial and error. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes Chinese Medicine alone is simply not powerful enough. But sometimes, when we get it right, this medicine can produce quick and amazing results. And this is why I love my job!