Seasonal Allergies and the Immune System

Seasonal Allergies and the Immune System
April 6, 2015 Colleen Emery


When our immune system is in balance, it does a seamless job of identifying and eliminating potential threats to our health, such as toxins, bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. However, sometimes our immune system responds too vigorously to a substance in the environment that is usually harmless, such as pollen, animal dander, or mold. As the body acts to rid the body of the perceived threat, we can experience the uncomfortable symptoms of an allergy reaction, including runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, and itchy, watery eyes. In addition, an exaggerated immune response can lead to symptoms in the lungs (asthma) and skin (hives, eczema). Allergies affect a large percentage of the population at one time or another and can significantly limit activity.

The Underlying Causes of Allergies

Heredity is one of the major distinguishing factors in determining one’s susceptibility to allergies. Your risk of developing allergies increases by approximately 30% if one of your parents is allergic. If both of your parents have allergies, your risk is greater than 60%.

In addition to inherited tendencies, several other key factors determine whether a person experiences an allergic reaction and how severe that reaction will be. These include the strength of the individual’s digestive fire, or inner resilience, the quantity of allergen that enters the body, and a person’s current state of balance/imbalance. Fortunately, there are techniques to strengthen our vital energy, avoid allergen exposure, and improve our state of balance. By addressing all of these factors, we can help prevent allergies as well as keep them under control.

Strengthening Inner Resilience and Foundational Wellness

When our Foundational Wellness is strong, we can take in energy and information from our environment, extract whatever is beneficial to us, and eliminate everything we don’t need. In addition, when our qi is burning brightly, our body won’t mount an aggressive response to foreign material such as pollen, but will instead remove it in a healthy, beneficial way. In other words, our body is more resilient to the changes in the environment.

Strengthening our Foundational Wellness can be accomplished several ways:

  • Reducing stress and promoting healthy stress response
  • Reduction of physical and emotional toxicity
  • Reduction of congesting or dampening foods
  • Reducing the quantity of allergens that enter the body
  • Supporting the immune system with essential nutrients and immune-modulating herbs

Specific Allergy Symptoms and Recovery Strategies

1) Allergy symptoms in the spring season such as congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing – are described as an accumulation of earth and water elements. This leads to the feeling of “heaviness” and excessive mucus in the head and sinuses. Other symptoms are sluggishness and feeling tired. For these classic allergy symptoms, there are several simple and effective therapies that will relieve acute symptoms.

 The neti pot is a useful tool in treating allergies. In addition to the benefits of removing allergens it helps to hydrate the sensitive mucous membrane.

The use of essential oils with invigorating scents, such as eucalyptus, ravensara, rosemary or juniper, can act as a natural decongestant, thus reducing the symptoms of heaviness.

Other treatments include the use of pungent and bitter (astringent) herbs and spices including ginger, cayenne, pepper, basil, cumin, cardamom, sage, turmeric, and cinnamon. An easy remedy is drinking hot honey water, or ginger lemon tea. In addition, treatment should be geared toward lightening the body in other ways, such as daily exercise and use of a dry sauna.

2) When allergy symptoms occur in the summertime, the underlying source is often caused by excess water and fire. Excess heat can produce inflammation in the respiratory tract or skin. These symptoms are usually rash, headache, burning or red eyes, and inflammation in the sinuses and airway (sinusitis, bronchitis).

Ingesting cooling herbs, such as coriander and cilantro helps to balance the heat. Ingestion of clarified butter, or ghee, as well as aloe and turmeric, can calm the inflammatory reaction that is typical of Pitta imbalance. From a biochemical perspective, these herbs contain healthy anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support our immune system.

3) Allergic symptoms that include headache, wheezing, sneezing, dry cough and eyes and generalized muscle aches often occur in the fall when the air becomes dry and cold.

To balance these acute symptoms it is important to stay hydrated and drink warm liquids, such ginger tea with honey.