Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen and therefore is common in spring and summer. Typical symptoms include itchy eyes, blocked or runny nose, sneezing fits and breathing problems. Some people react in a similar way to house dust and animals such as cats, dogs and horses. In the UK alone, there may be over 10 million people with hay fever. Most suffers rely on anti-histamines to get through the pollen season. Health complications from repeated hay fever attacks, year after year, may be an even more serious problem. Chronic sinusitis – inflammation of the sinus cavities is one of these problems. Another is nasal polps, or growths. In addition, significant percentages of people with hay fever have or develop asthma.

To be able to breathe free and to feel your best, even during allergy season, you need to identify and treat the root cause of your allergy. During allergy season with chronic sneezing, itchy eyes and other complications from seasonal allergies, your immune system goes haywire and releases histamine. Histamine opens the blood vessels and causes swollen membranes. In Chinese Medicine we work in two steps; Step one clear acute symptoms, naturally dissolving phlegm, clearing discharge and opening the nasal passages. Step 2 covers the phases between allergy seasons to boost the immune system and strengthen any deficiency in the body that allow allergic reactions to arise.

Most people get allergy relief from antihistamines to stop symptoms of nasal allergies. But over the counter drugs override your body's natural immune response and don't address the root cause of allergic rhinitis. Not to mention their side effects e.g. drowsiness.



Chinese Medicine has been proven to be a good tool in your toolbox for treating and managing Hayfever. Charlie Changli Xue,* Robert English,* Jerry Jiansheng Zhang,* Cliff Da Costa+ and Chun Guang Li (2001) did a randomised controlled clinical trial proving acupuncture is an effective and safe alternative treatment for the management of SAR.  Although acupuncture is often associated with pain control, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner it has a much broader application. The modern scientific explanation is that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the body that influence the body’s own internal regulating system. The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities. It can help to strengthen the body’s resistance and can regulate the body’s antigen-antibody’s reactions.


Chinese medicine works to balance the body, helping it stay strong and resilient. By inserting needles just below the surface of the skin, a reaction is triggered to promote homeostasis. In addition to promoting a calmer nervous system, acupuncture points are chosen to address symptoms as they present, so, in peak allergy season we work on un-stuffing noses and clearing out lungs. Acupuncture is wonderful to provide immediate relief from runny noses, itchy eyes, sinus congestion and headaches. Better yet, prior to allergy season we try to create a stronger healthier respiratory function so when the pollen count gets high, the body can handle it better. For allergic rhinitis treatment, a course of acupuncture will be prescribed. Usually, a block of treatments of between 6-8 weekly sessions. This course of treatment is ideal in the lead up to pollen session. Outside of pollen season it is important to attend your acupuncturist to do build up work, which will depend on the individuals diagnosis. Herbal medicine can also be used in conjugation with acupuncture if the chinese medicine diagnosis requires it.



Nasal congestion, discharge and itching can be relieved during the first acupuncture treatment but it may take up to six sessions to get acute symptoms under control, however a large amount of symptoms are eased within the first couple of sessions. As hay fever is fundamentally the result of a weakness in the immune system it is important that the patient continues to see an acupuncturist outside of acute pollen season to build up their system for the following pollen season. Regular exercise, immune boosting foods and herbs may also form important aspects of the patient’s treatment.

The Treatment

As you can see the treatment will have a two-tiered approach, one treatment in peak pollen season and one outside of pollen season to do build up work.  As we are all-different and have different constitutions, the treatment will depend on the individuals diagnosis from a full Chinese medicine consultation. Predominantly within pollen season the treatment will be directed towards clearing heat and congestion, reducing inflammation and pain relief. The beauty of Chinese medicine is always that it aims to treat the root of the problem, it is not a system of medicine that just treats the symptoms which is what essentially anti-histamines do. Outside of pollen season your practitioner will do “build up” work, treat the underlying deficiency’s within predominantly the lung, kidney and spleen channels. A variety of acupuncture points will be used around the body once a prescription of points has been decided on post the consultation. Again, acupuncture treats the individual – not the disorder or disease. Outside of pollen season the acupuncture point prescription will directed towards boosting the immune system. When an acupuncturist is treating to build the bodies immune system up, they will predominantly treat the lung, spleen and liver channels.

Nasal congestion, discharge and itching can be relieved during the first acupuncture treatment but it may take up to six sessions to get acute symptoms under control, however a large amount of symptoms are eased within the first couple of sessions. As hay fever is fundamentally the result of a weakness in the immune system it is important that the patient continues to see an acupuncturist outside of acute pollen season to build up their system for the following pollen season. Regular exercise, immune boosting foods and herbs may also form important aspects of the patient’s treatment.


o   Nasal Congestion: 

Most of us take our ability to breathe effortlessly for granted. But those of us that suffer with nasal congestion, know that it is horrendous. It comes nicely with a long list of symptoms such as headaches, pain in the face, stuffed or runny nose, post nasal drip, sneezing, awful taste in the mouth, dizziness, upset stomach are a few of the symptoms. These line of symptoms are followed by a long list of symptoms controls, without actually treating the root of the problem – painkillers, nasal sprays, decongestants and many more. Using acupuncture as one of your tools is just the smarter choice because it also symptoms relieves but also treats the root.

Nasal congestion is simply an inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the sinus cavities. Inflammation causes the mucous membrane to secrete more mucous to the point where the tissues can become swollen which can prevent drainage. This can happen chronically with sinusitis but acutely as we know forms the long list of symptoms of hay fever (allergies). The pattern of disharmony to treat this can be varied from person to person although you may have the same problem. Predominantly your acupuncturist will treat “Damp” and “Heat”. This damp and heat can be attributed to a weakness in the spleen energy system. Apart from the spleen heat that is considered heat can develop in the liver system from emotional stress, or frustration and lead to disharmony.

Points used within an acupuncture session that can be massaged for relief:

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o   Itching: 

The main symptoms associated with hay fever and eyes is intense itchying and redness around the eyes. They can also stream a lot so for a lot of people pollen season makes them look like they are crying continuously. The worse thing you can do is itch your eyes but that’s easy to say. In Chinese Medicine we look towards a variety of patterns, as again everyone is different but eh most common patterns are a combination of weak defensive energy and wind-heat attacking the organ of the eye.  Itchy eyes is predominantly related to the disorders of the lungs, spleen and stomach. The patters reflect a state of deficiency, excess, or mixed deficiency and excess.  To treat this, the acupuncturist will always treat the underlying pattern but here are some common points we use in the acute phase to give instant relief, these can also be used for self massage

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There are a number of ways we can take care of our bodies through food within pollen season. Also, ways to strengthen your system outside of the pollen season. In terms of Chinese Medicine, if we look at strengthening the system outside of pollen season we look towards strengthening the digestion system or stomach/spleen.

Specific foods to strengthen your digestion / middle: 

Grains Vegetables, Fruit, Bean product, Meats, Herbs/ spices, quality oils, oats, rice, sweet rice potato, squash, sweet potato, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, Tofu, Beef, chicken, ham, lamb, Liquorice, Molasses, Algae, pollen, American ginseng, Chinese ginseng, royal jelly.

Foods to reduce or avoid for some time: 

Salads, raw fruits, citrus, wheat, sprouts, wheat grass, raw vegetables, tomatoes, spinach (raw), dairy e.g. milk and cheese, nut butters and other high oil foods, overly sweet foods, refined sugars, high doses of vitamin C, seaweeds, chocolate, cold foods like ice cream or smoothies, iced drinks including ice water.

*During pollen season it is best to avoid foods that create damp in your system and eat foods that help reduce damp

Damp forming foods

Dairy – milk, cheese, yogurts, ice cream – Sheep & Goats products are less dampening, Wheat – breads, pastry's, biscuits, all yeast products, pork & rich meat, processed foods, sugar & sweeteners, concentrated juice's especially Orange & Tomato, beer, bananas – these are a big NO in TCM

Foods to resolve dampness include: Grains Corn, barley, basmati rice, Vegetables Alfalfa sprout, button mushroom, caper, corn, pumpkin, radish, turnip, Fruit Papaya, lemon, umeboshi plum, Beans Aduki, lentils, tuna, Herbs, spices Aniseed, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, nettle, parsley, white pepper, Beverages: Green tea, raspberry leaf tea, jasmine tea.


Chrysanthemum & Honey Suckle Tea – cheap and delicious, this tea can help combat hayfever symptoms such as red, itchy, sore eyes and sneezing. Just steep a little bit of each herb in hot water to taste and drink throughout the day. 


* Try to stay out of the wind or at least keep your neck and shoulders covered with a scarf when it’s windy, even a light one if it’s warm. This protects the vulnerable meridians that lie on the neck and shoulders from “invading wind”.

* On high pollen count days, wear wrap around sunglasses, avoid hanging washing on the line and shower after being outside if possible.

* Keep adding warm, cooked foods into your diet and keep cold and raw foods to a minimum. In Chinese Medicine the digestion loves to be warm and too many cold and raw foods can damage the digestive organs, impacting on many areas of our health from phlegm production, energy, digestion, fertility and sleep.

* Limit dairy foods if you get nasal congestion or runny noses as these foods increase mucous production in the body. Reducing sugar, caffeine, red wine and wheat products can also be useful as these foods can trigger histamine release and inflammatory responses in the body. Tomatoes, oranges, cheese and chocolate are other culprits often associated with allergies.

Don’t trust the weather! It is still going to cool down in the evenings for some time.  So not the time to leave your coat behind. 

Embrace the outdoor Summer again!