Ask Alex The Acupuncturist

Question From A Client:

At this time of year in Northern Arizona, I usually get mild hay fever symptoms, but over the years I feel it has become much worse. I seem to have become more sensitive to everything – pollen, dust, pet hair! Is there anything I can do other than take pharmaceutical drugs? They tend to make me drowsy, foggy and I don’t like the idea of taking them everyday?

Answer From Alex

Hay fever is a complex phenomena in Chinese medicine as it involves the Lung, Spleen and Kidneys with internal and external factors playing their part. So, lets do our best here to identify keys in understanding and the practical tips that you can do yourself to alleviate signs and symptoms.

Spring is the season of wind, both in the environment and in our bodies. This combination of the trees and shrubs budding and wind in the environment signals the start of hay fever season.

‘In Chinese medicine, Wind is considered to be the ‘spearhead of disease’, ‘piercing holes’ in the immune system’

Wind can drive external pathogens into the body, but it seldom attacks alone – it is usually seen with an accomplice: for example, Wind-Heat, Wind-Cold and Wind-Damp are the most common types of Chinese medicine diagnosis for hay fever.

External Causes

Chinese medicine understands the effects that over-exposure to the elements – wind, heat, cold, damp, dryness – can have on the body, and it categorizes the kinds of diseases that may invade our bodies at that time as “Exogenous Pathogens” – e.g. “Wind-Heat” or “Wind-Cold” – according to the way that they mimic the effects of the climatic conditions as they storm though our bodies.

‘The face is considered one of the most yang parts of the body’

The face is the only part of the body that can be left uncovered in serious cold. The nose is located in the center of the face making it very yang. Exogenous yang pathogens, such as Wind-Heat, Wind-Cold, Wind-Damp, can attack the nose and invade the body. As the nose is the external opening of the lungs and helps the lungs to control the Protective Qi, when exogenous pathogens attack the Qi, nasal disorders commonly occur.

Internal Causes

Furthermore, when the body constitution is weak, such as when there is a deficiency of lung Qi, or the protective Qi is not strong enough, exogenous pathogens can attack the nose simultaneously and nasal disorders result. Chinese medicine considers acute or recent attacks of hay fever to be mainly the result of external factors, whereas chronic or frequent relapses are mainly due to internal factors.

‘However, this dynamic – strength of the pathogen vs strength of your immunity – is always relevant ‘

The stronger the natural immunity, the less severe the symptoms from the exogenous pathogens, like pollen, which is the main aggregator in hay fever.

What are the Internal Contributors to Hay Fever Symptoms?

Diagram from – a wonderful resource for Chinese medicine

As you can see above we need to have strong Lung, Spleen and Kidney Qi. You will see evidence of this explanation in:

  • Lung – When we are weak and immunity is low, the sensitivities and symptoms are worse
  • Spleen – When we eat dampening foods – wheat, dairy, beer, cold/raw foods, etc sensitivities and symptoms are worse
  • Kidney – As we age, or when we exhaust our energy through yang-burning lifestyle, sensitivities and symptoms can become worse

What Can We Do About it?

It could be that one of these weaknesses predominates, and more often in my experience, all three are playing a part. So, beyond removing ourselves from exposure to the offending pathogens, what else can we do?

First key:

‘From a Chinese medicine perspective hay fever is seen as an inability to produce enough energy from the digestive system for a healthy immune response to wind and allergens’

In Chinese medicine the digestive system is responsible for converting energy from food to produce protective Qi.  When the the digestive energy is depleted through poor diet, stress and lack of exercise, it cannot produce enough wei qi which is important to defend against outside wind and pollen. Without healthy we qi,  wind penetrates the body to produces hay fever systems of sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing, running nose etc.

‘To strengthen wei qi, the main idea in Chinese dietary therapy is to eat foods that are easy-to-digest at regular intervals’

When we eat difficult-to-digest foods, the food is not properly ‘cooked’ into pure energy and that food that is not completely transformed becomes phlegm and dampness, often resulting in fatigue, bloating and reduced immune function.

Interestingly, the foods that are high in nutrition are also dampening. These factors – high nutrition vs ease-of-digestion – are always part of dietary therapy and in Chinese medicine our primary focus is on ease-of-digestion.

‘The Chinese way of seeing the process of digestion is seen not so much in terms of gross revenue (raw nutrients) but much more about net profit (Qi & Blood)’

Foods To Avoid To Reduce Hay Fever Symptoms

  • Alcohol: beer, wine, spirits
  • Dairy: milk, cheeses, butter, ice-cream, milk chocolate, yogurt
  • Raw food: salads, fruit
  • Sweet foods: excessive fruit, dried fruits, sweets, cakes, fruit juice, soft drinks
  • Wheat: bread, pasta, baked goods
  • Nuts: excessive nuts (particularly raw)

Increase These Foods To Reduce Hay Fever Symptoms

Warming foods are natural hay fever remedies – Eating three proper meals a day, with fewer snacks enhances this process. Think about your own ancestors and it’s the same in Chinese culture you’ll often find three cooked meals a day with cooked grain, cooked vegetables, and small amounts of cooked meat with a soup.

Pungent foods are particularly good for hay fever – mint, spring onions, ginger, horseradish, chamomile and black pepper. Gently warming pungent also good to include in spring: fennel, oregano, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf. Pungent foods stimulate circulation of Qi and blood, moving energy up and out. But remember, a little goes a long way. Pungents also regulate Qi, enhance digestion, disperse mucus, stimulate the Lungs, Blood and Heart, guard against mucus forming conditions such as hayfever, remove obstructions and improve sluggish Liver function. Pungents improve digestion and expel flatulence from the intestines to fix bloating. And pungents make grains, legumes, nuts and seeds less mucus forming.

Warm drinks for hay fever – Following the idea of adding warming substances into your body, water can also be taken warm to hot. Drinking warm water or a cup of mint, chrysanthemum or camomile is an excellent way to protect yourself from mild symptoms of Wind-Heat.

Don’t forget that immunity also relies on the foundation of regular lives, good digestion and rest. Regular hours of sleep and three meals a day of mostly cooked grains and vegetables (with small amounts of meat and spices for enjoyment), regardless of hay fever, will do wonders for your immunity and your spirit.

Second Key

And if all that still not enough – seek some professional help from a licensed Acupuncturist as Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can be very effective in treating hay fever.

As Sūn Sī Miǎo 孙思邈 (died 682CE), considered the greatest acupuncturist of the last two thousand years says:

“Only when you diet and lifestyle fail… should you use herbs and acupuncture”

Living in Northern Arizona – $30 off initial appointments in April 2017 – That means $90 Acupuncture Initial (90-mins) & $60 Acupuncture follow-up (60-mins) – check out the clinic!

Check out the Clinic

Live in the USA and seeking easy to take Chinese Herbs for hay fever, Alex is offering a 15-min Telephone-consultation – $15 off – That means $10 tele-consult along with free shipping within US through April 2017. Confirming $10 Tele-consult + cost of herbs (approx. $30/month) + free shipping = Approx. $40/month for the remote Chinese herbal package.

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Got a Question – leave a comment below and I will get back to you asap!


Alexander K Tan is a licensed Acupuncturist.  After completing his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Alex lived and practiced Chinese Medicine for 10-years in Beijing, China.  A native-born Australian, the son of his Australian mother and Chinese father, Alex’s bi-cultural heritage helps him skillfully bridge Eastern and Western health perspectives.  He believes the true power of Chinese medicine lies in a balanced approach towards prevention and treatment. Rooted in Chinese Medicine observation based theory & methodology over millenniums, Alex’s talent lies in delivering these Eastern healing modalities to his modern Western clients. For more about Alex click here

Alex runs a clinic in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona. Alex welcomes comments and questions to his articles. To schedule an appointment in person or telco-appointment click here