Allergies & Immunity: What is the Link?

Most of us happily welcome the warmer and sunnier days of spring. Unfortunately, not everyone finds the change in seasons to be a good thing – many others find themselves grappling with some unpleasant side-effects of the season: allergies.

Are you one of the 81 million Americans who regularly struggle with spring allergies and rhinitis? While you may be dreading another sniffly spring ahead, there is good news. You aren’t destined to live with allergies – you can find and fix the root cause of your seasonal allergies by addressing your immune health.

In holistic healing practices like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), allergies are often linked to a weak or overactive immune system. Here we explore how boosting your immunity may not just alleviate, but possibly prevent, allergy symptoms altogether.

Allergies, Immunity, and Inflammation: What's the Link?

The secret to getting rid of seasonal allergies lies in addressing your immune health and inflammation. But why?

Allergies arise when our immune system reacts to a foreign substance — such as pollen, bee venom, pet dander, or food — that doesn't cause a reaction in most people. And this immune response is closely tied to inflammation, a natural process where the body's white blood cells and substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.

However, in the case of allergies, this inflammatory response goes a bit too far. Rather than simply protecting us from real dangers (like bacteria and viruses), it responds to things that are not necessarily harmful (like dust or pollen). This causes the same immune and inflammatory response that you would experience with a real pathogen, but there is nothing to fight. The result? Too much mucus, inflammation, and other allergic symptoms.

A weakened or imbalanced immune system may overreact, causing the typical symptoms of allergies. To reduce allergies, we need to first restore the immune system's ability to distinguish between harmful and harmless substances. By strengthening the immune system, we can restore its ability to protect the body appropriately and turn down an overactive inflammatory response.

Allergies and Immunity: The TCM Perspective

Conventional medicine addresses allergies by covering up the symptoms. For instance, common antihistamines will block the immune system from mounting its response – and therefore stop excessive mucus production, tissue swelling, and other effects that lead to allergy symptoms.

This approach works well in the short term, but doesn’t address the root cause of why our immune system is overreacting. In fact, it can make the root imbalance even worse.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a different approach to managing allergies. In addition to reducing symptoms in the moment, it also works to restore balance to the immune system so the reaction doesn’t occur in the future.

What Causes Allergies in TCM?

Allergies in TCM aren’t just considered a symptom or inconvenience. They are the manifestation of imbalances and weaknesses in the body's energy, or Qi.

According to TCM, the foundation of a robust immune system is strong and abundant Qi. When our Qi is weakened or depleted (due to stress, illness, or imbalanced lifestyle), all our body systems suffer (including and especially our immune system).

TCM also views allergies as part of a bigger picture of imbalance rather than a separate “disease.” Other symptoms you have may seem unrelated to your respiratory system or allergies, but in TCM, they are all interrelated and can be addressed at the same time by focusing on the root issue.

For example, you and your friend may both have spring allergies. But, you also have loose stools, feel cold all the time, and feel exhausted with any type of physical activity. Your friend, on the other hand, is a “busy-body,” complains of feeling restless, runs hot, and has night sweats. While you both have seasonal allergies, your root issue – and your best treatment – will be different.

What’s Your TCM Allergy Type?

In TCM, different patterns of imbalance can lead to allergies. Identifying your type can help you make the best lifestyle and herbal medicine choices to restore your balance and fight allergies strategically. Here are a few of the most common types of imbalances that lead to allergies:

Deficiency Type

Allergy Symptoms

Other Symptoms

Qi Deficiency

  • Frequent colds or flu.
  • Mild, persistent allergic reactions.
  • Respiratory allergies (sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose).
  • General fatigue and lethargy.
  • Shortness of breath and spontaneous sweating.
  • Poor appetite and digestive issues.
  • Pale complexion, feeling cold.

Yin Deficiency

  • Dryness-related allergies (dry, itchy skin or eyes).
  • Worsening of symptoms in the evening.
  • Heat signs during reactions (redness, warmth).
  • Hot flashes, night sweats, sensation of heat (afternoon/evening).
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep.
  • Dry mouth, throat, lips.
  • Restlessness, irritability.

Yang Deficiency

  • Cold-type symptoms (cold limbs during reactions).
  • Increased severity in cold weather.
  • Prolonged duration of symptoms.
  • Sensation of cold, especially in the back and limbs.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Fatigue, desire to lie down.
  • Slow digestion, loose stools.
  • Feeling of heaviness, sluggishness.

The Best Herbal Remedies to Reduce and Prevent Allergies

The beauty of herbal medicine lies in its ability to address both symptoms and root cause on an individual basis. Here are the top formulas to support your body’s immune system this spring:

Herbs to Boost Immunity

  • For General Allergy Relief: Pe Min Kan Wan Allergy Relief
    Pe Min Kan Liquid Tincture is most useful when you have sinus problems (congestion, pain, headache, runny nose). It can also be used as a general support for the respiratory system during cold, flu, and allergy season; particularly if excess nasal discharge or post-nasal drip is one of your main issues.
  • For Navigating Seasonal Changes: Mulberry Leaf Combo - San Ju Gan Mao Pain
    Mulberry Leaf Combo (San Ju Gan Mao Pian) offers all-around seasonal immune support. It boosts the Lung's defenses and strengthens the upper respiratory system during changes to the seasons to help the immune system adapt to environmental shifts.
  • For Overall Immune Support: Health and Immunity Herbal Broth and Soup Mix
    You can cook your way to a stronger immune system with Chinese herbal soups! This particular blend of herbs is designed to support your body’s innate immunity and enhance your Qi (energy). It can be used anytime you feel weak or under the weather, or as a preventative tonic during cold, flu, and allergy seasons. 
  • For Phlegmy Constitutions: Pinellia Rectify Qi - Qing Qi Hua Tan Tang
    Do you suffer from sinus congestion, constant blocked nose, or mucus discharge? You may have an imbalance that leads to an accumulation of phlegm that is affecting your immune system. Because internal inflammation (from too much phlegm) can also hinder the flow of qi and other vital fluids in the midsection of the body, nausea, a feeling of fullness in the chest and epigastrium, or abdominal bloating. Qing Qi Hua Tan Liquid Tincture clears heat and toxins from the Lungs to powerfully to clear phlegm and restore balance in the whole body.

Herbs to Address Allergy Symptoms

While most herbal formulas focus on addressing the root cause of allergies and low immunity, some also work to stop some of the most common symptoms. Use these formulas to get relief in the moment while your body builds resilience.

  • For Runny Noses: Xiao Qing Long Wan
    Xiao Qing Long Wan is for cold-type (Qi deficiency or Yang deficiency) allergy symptoms. It is usually taken when one suffers from a sensitivity to cold weather, or to treat chills, fever (without sweating), body aches, wheezing or asthma, a cough that produces clear to white mucus, congestion in the chest, and a thick white coating on the tongue. 
  • For Blocked Noses: Nose Clear - Bi Yan Tang
    Nose Clear Liquid Extract addresses seasonal hay fever, pollen & dust allergies, and common cold when sneezing and red, itchy eyes are the predominant symptoms (excess inflammation or Yin deficient types). When taken over the course of a few months, this formula may even eliminate or greatly reduce nasal allergies. 
  • For Wheezing: Calm Wheezing - Ping Chuan Tang
    Ping Chuan Tang is a popular Chinese Medicine formula used to relieve a variety of chronic asthmatic conditions (particularly when there is not a lot of phlegm). It does so by using a blend of herbs that strengthen the Lungs and the body's ability to draw breath into the body.

More Tips to Build Qi, Strengthen Immunity, and Stay Strong During Allergy Season

  • Eat a Balanced, Easy-to-Digest Diet
    Emphasize warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest, as per TCM principles. Foods like ginger, garlic, and onions are considered to boost immune function and Qi by supporting the body’s natural digestive process. 
  • Enjoy Regular Exercise
    Movement does the body good, especially during times of change (like shifting into spring). Gentle exercises like Tai Chi or Qigong can help in maintaining a smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, enhancing overall immunity. Or, make a walk in nature part of your everyday routine (but wear a face mask to reduce pollen exposure). 
  • Make Time for Adequate Sleep
    Sleep is key for building your Qi. Ensure you get enough rest to help your body repair and strengthen its immune system.
  • Make Stress Management a Priority
    Unmanaged, chronic stress is one of the key reasons people have low reserves of Qi. Practices like meditation and mindfulness can help reduce stress, build your Qi resources, and strengthen your immunity. 
  • Stay Consistent with Herbal Supplements
    Once you’ve found the herbal formula that fits your unique symptoms and needs, make a plan to stay consistent. Herbal medicine works in a similar way to exercise – you need to use it regularly to get the results you want. Set an alarm to remind you, or pair your herbs with your meals to make sure you take the full recommended dose, every day.

Say Goodbye to Allergies this Spring with Herbal Medicine

Allergies may be common, but that doesn’t mean they’re normal. In reality, they’re a cry for help from your body’s immune system.

If you want to avoid allergies this year, you need to give your immune system some TLC. By nurturing your Qi and strengthening your immune system, you will not only reduce the severity of your seasonal allergies, but you may even prevent them from triggering altogether.

Ready to enjoy a more balanced, allergy-free life? Shop these respiratory tonics and other herbal remedies for well-being today!

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