Friday, 15 November 2013

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Allergic Rhinitis (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Part 1. In this post, we look at what causes allergic rhinitis from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective. 

Allergic rhinitis is generally described as a congenital problem (you were born with it) or due to some kind of deficiency or dysfunction of an organ(s). Simply said, it’s usually a chronic condition that has had a long time to build up. Most people don’t have an acute bout of sneezing due to allergies for one day and then never have it again.

In TCM we tend to characterise allergic rhinitis as a problem of the Lung, Spleen and Kidney, with some added external factors like damp, wind-cold, or stress.

The sneezing, itching, nasal congestion and clear, watery nasal discharge of an acute attack of allergic rhinitis are all classified as a wind-cold attack (exactly like the common cold). In your body’s defensive system, the Lung is the first one to encounter any invaders and that is the case here. All the wind-cold evils (here it may be pollen, dust, spores or animal dander etc) come rushing in causing the uncomfortable symptoms. If this happens for long enough the Lung’s function gets compromised and it fails to diffuse the fluids which results in damp and phlegm. 

Damp and phlegm in TCM can mean both the visible viscous discharge or mucus, but when referred to in a TCM diagnosis it is a pattern that describes a cause or effect of illness. Like the damp found in houses, damp and phlegm are relatively easy to have (especially in today’s western lifestyle), really disrupts the body’s function and get be quite hard to truly get rid of. Unlike wind-cold which attacks but doesn’t really hang around for long, damp can be the cause of long term harm to your wellbeing by causing lethargy, fatigue, headaches and general “fuzzy-head”. 

Regarding allergic rhinitis, the damp accumulation due to the Lung’s dysfunction results in nasal discharge and congestion. The itchiness that is often associated with allergies is due to the wind. One can say that all sufferers of allergic rhinitis have deep-lying or hidden phlegm in the Lung which then becomes vulnerable in the presence of an external aggravant. 

However, for the external factors to invade and affect the system, there must be an underlying deficiency in the body’s defense system. Enter a second character, the Spleen. The Spleen’s main function is to transform the nutrients from the food you eat and transport them throughout the body. If the Spleen is malfunctioning, the transforming and transporting doesn’t happen properly and the most common result of that is damp accumulation. 

Here is the catch though: unlike the Lung where damp caused nasal congestion and discharge, damp in the Spleen weakens the Spleen which then affects its transform and transport function even more, creating more damp which then perpetuates the problem. It’s a catch-22, which is why damp can be so hard to remove from the body. 

So what creates this Spleen deficiency? It can be due to ageing, which is inevitable, but also over-worrying, stress, fatigue, medication like antibiotics or most commonly a poor diet. A poor diet in TCM doesn’t only mean malnutrition or eating fried, fast food exclusively. It includes eating on the go, rushing through your meals, arguing during meal-times and eating too many sugar, sweets, uncooked, chilled or cold food and drinks. The Spleen likes things warm and cozy so anything that feels like being dunked in a cold water tank while wearing a multi-layered ballgown is going to feel awful.

 
More about Ka Hang Leoungk: Ka Hang practices traditional acupuncture at the renowned Hale Clinic near Regent’s Park in central London, and Neal’s Yard Remedies on King’s Road, Chelsea. She trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) from Middlesex University in the UK, and completed a Bachelor of Medicine from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. She is a Registered Acupuncturist, member of the British Acupuncture Council (MBAcC) and one of few practitioners in the UK to use the Balance Method style of acupuncture. She is also an Academic Associate of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) You can find her on her websiteFacebook and Twitter.