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Understanding Hay Fever – The Causes, Symptoms and Role of Acupuncture

It’s a seasonal curse that is estimated to affect around 10 million people – or 1 in 6 people – in the UK every year.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a condition that occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens in the air, such as pollen, dust mites, mould, and pet dander (the shedding of physiological substances such as hair, saliva and urine). This overreaction leads to a range of uncomfortable symptoms that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.

While conventional treatments like antihistamines and nasal sprays are widely used, alternative therapies such as acupuncture are gaining popularity for their ability to alleviate hay fever symptoms.

Before we get into the way acupuncture works and the effect it can have on the body’s ability to manage its allergic response, it’s helpful to understand the causes and symptoms of hay fever and their impact on our comfort and wellness.

Causes of Hay Fever

Hay fever is primarily caused by an allergic reaction to airborne substances. The most common allergens include:

  • Pollen: Trees, grasses, and weeds release tiny pollen grains into the air, especially during specific seasons. Spring and summer are peak times for pollen allergies.
  • Dust mites: These microscopic creatures thrive in household dust and can trigger hay fever symptoms year-round.
  • Mould spores: Mold can grow in damp areas inside and outside the home, and its spores can become airborne, causing allergic reactions.
  • Pet dander: Proteins found in the skin flakes, saliva, and urine of pets can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

When these allergens are inhaled, the immune system mistakenly identifies them as harmful substances. This triggers the release of histamines and other chemicals, leading to the symptoms associated with hay fever.

Symptoms of Hay fever

The symptoms of hay fever can range from mild to severe and may include:

Sneezing: One of the most common symptoms, sneezing helps the body expel allergens from the nasal passages.

Runny or Stuffy Nose: Increased mucus production is the body’s way of trapping and removing allergens.

Itchy and Watery Eyes: Allergens can irritate the eyes, causing itching, redness, and excessive tearing.

Itchy Throat and Ears: The same allergens that affect the nose and eyes can also cause itching in the throat and ears.

Fatigue: Chronic hay fever can lead to persistent tiredness and difficulty concentrating due to the ongoing discomfort and disrupted sleep.

Coughing: Postnasal drip, where mucus runs down the back of the throat, can trigger a cough.

These symptoms can interfere with daily activities, work, and sleep, making effective management essential.

Acupuncture: An Alternative Approach

Acupuncture, a key element of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to restore balance and promote healing. It has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory conditions like hay fever.

How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”), the vital energy that flows through the body’s meridians, or energy pathways. According to TCM, illness occurs when the flow of Qi is disrupted or imbalanced. By stimulating specific acupuncture points, practitioners aim to restore the balance of Qi and improve overall health.

In the context of hay fever, acupuncture is believed to work through several mechanisms:

Acupuncture may help modulate the immune response, reducing the hypersensitivity that causes allergic reactions.

The insertion of needles can stimulate the release of natural anti-inflammatory substances, alleviating the inflammation that contributes to hay fever symptoms. nhanced circulation can promote the removal of allergens and toxins from the body, reducing the severity of symptoms.

Restoring the balance of Qi can strengthen the body’s natural defences and improve overall resilience to allergens.

Acupuncture v Conventional Treatments

Individuals sensitive to pollen can take measures like removing certain plants from their gardens, wearing surgical masks, or moving to a different location to avoid exposure.

Dust reduction strategies include using allergen-reducing covers on mattresses and pillows and removing carpets and curtains. Pets that trigger allergies may need to be kept out of bedrooms or re-homed. Avoidance of triggers can be effective but are not always practical.

Pharmacological treatments commonly include over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, oral steroids, and mast-cell stabilizers, often combined with corticosteroid nasal sprays for temporary relief.

Allergen immunotherapy (AIT), typically administered as subcutaneous injections over an extended period, is also available in a sublingual form. Unlike medications that provide temporary relief, AIT is the only treatment that alters the course of the disease.

By contrast, several studies have investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating hay fever, with promising results.

A study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that participants who received acupuncture reported significant improvements in their symptoms and a reduced need for antihistamines compared to a control group.

Another study published in Allergy demonstrated that acupuncture could decrease nasal congestion and itching, improve quality of life, and enhance sleep quality in hay fever sufferers. These findings suggest that acupuncture can be a valuable adjunct to conventional treatments, offering relief without the side effects associated with some medications.

Practical Considerations

For those considering acupuncture for hay fever, it’s essential to consult with a qualified and licensed acupuncturist. A typical treatment plan may involve weekly sessions during the peak allergy season, with each session lasting about 30 to 60 minutes. The number of sessions required can vary depending on the severity of symptoms and individual response to treatment.

In addition to acupuncture, your acupuncture therapist may recommend lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments to support overall health and reduce allergy triggers.

For example, reducing exposure to known allergens, maintaining a clean living environment, and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into the diet can complement acupuncture treatments and enhance their effectiveness.

Hay fever is a common and often debilitating condition that arises from an allergic reaction to airborne substances. While conventional treatments are effective for many, acupuncture offers a promising alternative for those seeking a holistic approach to managing their symptoms.

By regulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, and restoring the balance of Qi, acupuncture can provide significant relief and improve the quality of life for hay fever sufferers.

As with any medical treatment, it’s important to consult with healthcare professionals to determine the best approach for individual needs and circumstances, but if you’d like to know more about how acupuncture can help to free you from the misery of hay fever symptoms, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.


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