As the rainy season passes, sunshine returns to California. Flowers bloom cheerfully, ushering in the season of allergies. Yesterday I noticed unusually long lines at the Costco pharmacy. Upon closer inspection, I realized that most of the people standing in line were there for antihistamines. Most of us are familiar with allergy symptoms: itchy eyes, runny noses, nonstop sneezing. What are allergies anyway?

Allergies are symptoms caused by our immune systems’ overreaction to harmless substances called allergens. Allergy medications available today are all for controlling symptoms; they work very well within a certain time frame, but then (as so many of us know) the symptoms return, sometimes worse than before. I personally feel that this is a pretty superficial course of treatment.

Let us analyze for a moment, why do our bodies suddenly react to harmless allergens as if they were actually threatening to our health? Simply put, when there is too much energy in one area of the body, the tissues of that part of the body becomes overly sensitive, resulting in unnecessarily vehement reactions to things that should not, under normal circumstances, activate the immune system at all. Because energy is hot in quality, and heat tends to rise, extra energy tends to collect in the head and face. Over the years, I’ve noticed that 90% of my allergy patients have many body symptoms in addition to the head/face symptoms listed above. These symptoms include dry mouth, poor sleep, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, abdominal bloating, cold limbs, low appetite…patients who have suffered from allergies for years may even have low back pain, loose stools, and weakness of the legs.

The human body is an organic whole. Chinese medicine has come to understand this truth deeply through thousands of years of practice. That is to say, external symptoms are rarely just external; they are evidence of imbalance in the organs within. Since we know that allergies are caused by excess energy in the head and face, let us ponder for a moment how extra energy came to be there in the first place. This requires us to look at the body holistically. For example, if an allergy patient also has dry mouth, thirst, and cold limbs, we can deduce that communication between the internal and external parts of the body has broken down. When energy within cannot flow smoothly to the limbs, we get poor distal circulation (not enough energy outside), and too much energy trapped inside. This extra energy may then rise to the head and face, causing allergies. For such a case, if we can improve distal circulation and dispel the heat congested in the head and face, the allergies will disappear on their own. Another example: a patient who goes to bed late habitually, depleting blood and yin, ends up with internal heat from yin deficiency. Also, when one’s blood is thickened from deficiency, the Liver’s function of storing blood gets damaged, causing Liver stagnation, which also transforms into heat. Such a case should be treated by nourishing the blood and yin, clearing heat and stagnation. However, because the human body’s ability to create blood is limited, these patients tend to have a longer recovery process. With time and patience, complete recovery is possible. However, if the patient has also taken antihistamines to control allergy symptoms regularly, we can assume that these drugs have affected the Liver, which processes all chemicals that come through the body.  This will greatly delay the recovery process.

Thus, we can see that allergies are not limited to the head and face, nor are they a result of an overactive immune system. On the contrary, allergies are the result of a compromised and malfunctioning immune system. In that case, is it wise to disregard the wellbeing of the entire body while seeking to control the symptoms? Furthermore, is it not foolish to disregard the uniqueness of each and every individual body in a blanket treatment of allergy medication?

After summer solstice, we progress into the hottest period of the year. Hot weather can be great for improving the metabolism. This is the basis of the TCM axiom, “Treat winter diseases in the summer.”
What is a ‘winter disease’? Winter is synonymous with cold, the season in which the human heart is functioning at its most compromised. In winter, we are vulnerable to the invasion of cold, pain, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In winter, the body’s energy is cycling deep within, so it is easier for diseases to enter deep parts of the body. On the contrary, summer is the season in which the human heart is functioning at its best, and the body’s energy is cycling close to the surface. In summer, hot weather speeds up the body’s metabolism. For people who developed ailments in winter, summer is the season in which these ailments can most easily be removed.

If you have chronic bronchitis, chronic bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, chronic gastrointestinal disorders, limb circulatory disorders and other diseases, summer is be the best season to commence treatment.

For those without the ‘winter diseases’ listed above, I hope you pay more attention to keeping warm in summer. As temperatures rise, people wear less, and eat more cold things. Almost everyone walking in the street is holding an iced drink. And at the clinic, we see a large number of patients whose problems trace back to cold exposure. Beware of air conditioning and cold foods! Just today I have seen 12 patients who suffered from these two causes. Some had joint pain, some had dysmenorrheal, some had muscle injuries, some had a vertex headache, some had digestive troubles and one had a sudden asthma attack. Although the symptoms vary, all these patients were triggered by nothing more than the above two points. When we enjoy air conditioning and cold drinks in summer, we must remind ourselves to enjoy in moderation. Chinese medicine promotes the concept of ‘adapting to the sky,’ that is, living in harmony with the seasons. Summer is the time of year when we perspire the most. We can eliminate a lot of toxins through our sweat. This is an annual opportunity to improve our health, not to be missed.