Can Acupuncture Help with my Hay Fever?

Understanding Hay fever

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.

Hayfever and Chinese Medicine


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.

How does it work?

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.

When will my symptoms ease?

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.

Symptoms of Hay Fever & what you can do yourself? 

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 yt 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

1.     Large Intestine 4. Located in the V formed between your thumb and pointer finger. This point is great for constipation, headache and sinus congestion.

NOTE: this point should not be massaged in pregnancy

2.     Large Intestine 20: Located right next to the end of nostril and is wonderful to relieve sinus pressure

3.     Bladder 2: Found on the inside corner of the eyebrows. This point works to drain sinuses and reduce the pressure around the eyes

4.     Gall bladder 14: Working with bladder 2, this point is great for reducing pressure around the eyes. GB14 is found directly above the center of the eye in the middle of the forehead

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

1.     Stomach 2: Located directly below the center of the eye just at the top edge of thecheekbone

2.     Bladder 2: Found on the inside corner of the eyebrows. This point works to drain sinuses and reduce the pressure around the eyes

3.     Large Intestine 11: On the top, outer end of the elbow crease. Bend your arm, press your thumb into the hollow located on the top, outer end of the elbow crease, directly above the elbow, between the elbow joint (below) and the muscle (above)

4.     Bladder 1: In the depression just above the inner canthus of the eye

Foods to eat/avoid during hay fever season


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.

Immune boosting herbs and spices


Adding herbs and spices is an easy way to create variety and expand the flavours of your meals and load up the immune – boosting properties of your food, too. Herbs are typically leaves, roots and stems used in cooking or medicinal purposes. Spices usually come from bark or seeds, are intensely aromatic and are generally added to dishes in much smaller amounts.



1.     Cayenne pepper

Hot and spicy cayenne pepper is a member of the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, other peppers and eggplant. The heat producing component in the cayenne fruits is capsaicin, and patches or gels containing capsaicin can be used to soother localized pain. Cayenne, used sparingly, stimulates blood circulation and stimulates secretions to clear a stuffy nose making it an excellent immune boosting food

2.     Cinnamon

It helps prevent infection and may stimulate immune activity, making it a welcome and tasty addition to your collection of immune boosting herb and spices. There’s considerable research indicating that cinnamon can prevent clumping of blood platelets by blocking the release of inflammatory fatty acids from cell membranes. It also inhibits the formation of other inflammatory substances

3. Clove

Eugenol (clove oil) is widely used in dentistry as a local analgesic agent, so you may already be familiar with the smell and taste of cloves. Both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, the sweet, fragrant immune boosting cloves have been used to prevent gum pain—in addition to giving gingerbread and the Indian drink chai their signature aromas and flavours.

4. Garlic

This potent and pungent cooking staple provides antiseptic and antioxidant activities. In one study, garlic was shown to prevent colds or at least shorten the duration of the symptoms making it an important immune boosting food. Allicin, a potent sulfur compound found in garlic and onions, provides both their powerful pungent aromas and supports antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

5. Ginger

The pungent root of the ginger plant decreases inflammation in ways similar to aspirin, and it’s an antimicrobial against bacteria and fungus, making it a key immune boosting food. Some sailors, pregnant women, and people undergoing chemotherapy have found that ginger helps prevent or soothe nausea and motion sickness. Nausea and vomiting are complex processes controlled by the central nervous system and influenced by psychological issues. Studies show mixed results especially with chemotherapy-induced nausea, although ginger has reduced its severity. It’s been shown to be helpful in preventing pregnancy morning sickness. It also aids circulation and heat generation in the body. Ginger is readily available in ginger ale, as capsules, and in candied form.

Fresh ginger livens up the flavor of whatever you’re cooking or drinking, so try it in your morning oatmeal or evening stir-fry. Or use freshly grated ginger to make tea as a wonderful cold remedy. Avoid ginger if you’re taking blood thinners or aspirin.

6. Liquorice


Most people think of liquorice as a chewy candy, but its health benefits date from ancient times. Liquorice, another root, has been shown to have powerful cortisone-like activity, which means it can help diminish immune responses and inflammation, which is why it has been revered as an immune boosting herb for millennia. It works well in the gut to lessen the symptoms of an inflamed stomach. Research indicates that at medicinal doses, it is antimicrobial and an antioxidant.

7. Shiitake Mushrooms

This fungus has been used in Chinese Medicine or more than 6,000 years and offers another tasty and health-promoting food to your anti-inflammatory repertoire. This mushroom lessens the likelihood for heart disease by preventing immune cells from sticking to the thin walls of your blood vessels (the stickiness is a consequence of inflammation), making it a unique but important immune boosting food. Rich in vitamins B and D, shiitake mushrooms should be gently sautéed for a few minutes to enhance their flavour. Soak dried shiitakes for a few minutes and then rinse; they cook better when hydrated. Add a few to chicken soup or a veggie sauté for more flavour and immune support. Taken at a medicinal level, shiitake extracts can both suppress and activate immune functions, so consult with your health practitioner before supplementing with high amounts.

8. Onions

This flavourful, versatile addition to meals contains several immune-boosting chemical components. One is quercetin, a bioflavonoid also found in red wine, green tea, apples, berries, and buckwheat. Quercetin is not only anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, it also acts as an antihistamine. Eat onions daily.

9. Oregano

A powerful antimicrobial herb, oregano is effective in treating some fungal, bacterial, and parasitic infections, making it a great immune boosting herb to keep on hand or growing in the garden. Oregano has more antioxidant activity than apples, oranges, or blueberries! The popular seasoning is commonly used in Italian dishes like pizza, spaghetti, and minestrone soup.