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Keep informed on current news in the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Home > Newsletters > May 2005 >

Allergic Rhinitis from a TCM Perspective

By Fay-Meling von Moltke Pao, DAc, BHSc, Hon.BA.

What exactly is allergic rhinitis?
When a person is first exposed to a specific allergen, such as house dust and pollen, certain antibodies bind onto the mast cells of the upper respiratory tract, triggering a release of histamine from the mast cells. This results in an increase of nasal secretion, congestion, itching, and sneezing - a condition we call allergic rhinitis.

Signs and symptoms
Some common complaints associated with allergic rhinitis are: runny nose; sneezing; itchy and watery eyes, nose, and throat; sinus congestion; skin rashes; hives; diarrhea and frequent urination. This condition may be seasonal or perennial due to environmental allergens.

Allergic rhinitis can be caused by pollens, grasses, ragweed, dust, household mites, animal dander and saliva, changes in temperature and humidity, spicy foods, smoke or other strong fumes.

Drug therapies
Currently there are several types of pharmaceutical drugs available to treat this condition. These include oral decongestants, antihistamines, intranasal topical corticosteroids, and cromolyn sodium. While these drugs may offer temporary relief, they cannot cure the condition. Except for cromolyn sodium, which is one of the more expensive treatments on the market, most of these drugs display adverse effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, nervousness, and gastro-intestinal disorders. In some cases, they may even exacerbate the allergic symptoms. Nasal decongestants can become addictive when used for extended periods of time, requiring more dosage to achieve the same effect. Topical corticosteroids are generally considered safe, but can inhibit adrenal function with long-term use and can lead to yeast infections (candidiasis) within the nose and chronic nose-bleeding (epistaxis).

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine Therapy
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body is composed of an intricate web of energy pathways known as "meridians". The twelve regular and eight extra meridians help to maintain a balance of Yin (substances which nourish the body such as blood and body fluid) and Yang (related to activity and function) within the body. Each meridian is named after the specific internal organ that it encompasses and through which it passes.

When Qi (vital energy) and Xue (blood) flow freely through the meridians, the body is in good health and can perform at its optimum. However, if a particular energy pathway is obstructed, its corresponding organ's function will also be affected and the body's yin and yang will become unbalanced. This imbalance will ultimately affect the functioning of the body as a whole.

Acupuncture involves the use of hair-fine needles to stimulate specific points on the body along the meridians. Acupuncture works by removing energy blockages in the meridians and regulating the overall flow of energy so that the body can return to a state of balance and health.

In the case of allergic rhinitis, the blockage of energy is situated in the lung meridian, for which the nose is considered an extension. Under normal conditions, the lungs can control respiration and ensure that one breathes freely through the nose and with an acute sense of smell. In TCM, the lungs are also responsible for dispersing energy throughout the body and for preventing pathogenic factors from invading the body.

According to TCM, allergic rhinitis is due to an invasion of External Wind Cold or Heat (exopathogens) with an underlying Lung Qi deficiency that in some cases is further complicated by the deficiency of the Spleen or Kidney.

Lung Qi Deficiency
Deficiency of the lungs can be attributed to genetics, chronic lung disease, and excessive or insufficient exercise. The Lung Qi is further affected by emotions of grief or sadness. In TCM, persons with deficient Lung Qi can also suffer from a deficiency of Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) and thus be susceptible to External Wind (exopathogens). Typical symptoms include physical and mental fatigue, apathy, sweating with minimal exertion, and an inclination to catch colds.

Spleen Qi Deficiency
In TCM, the functioning of the Spleen is impaired by over-thinking, poor eating habits, and the consumption of foods that contribute to "dampness" and "phlegm" within the body. Foods that can aggravate the digestive system are greasy, fried, spicy and cold foods, as well as sweets, dairy products and alcohol. Strong fumes such as cigarette smoke can also irritate the nasal passages and contribute to more nasal congestion.

Kidney Deficiency
A deficiency of the Kidneys may be due to hereditary conditions, chronic illness, aging, overwork, and sudden fright. In cases where the condition is genetic, allergic conditions often begin during childhood. Since the Kidneys in TCM are the source of all Qi (Primordial Qi) within the body, a deficiency of the Kidneys can also disrupt the functioning of the Lung's Defensive Qi (which comes from Primordial Qi). This condition frequently occurs in persons who also have a condition of asthma or eczema, and can arise from one of the earlier syndromes discussed.

Method of therapy
The ideal time to treat seasonal allergic rhinitis using acupuncture is at least one month before symptoms normally begin. While some patients may experience immediate relief after only a few treatments, a course of six to ten treatments once per week is normally required to treat acute conditions. Chronic conditions may require further treatment.

For temporary relief of nasal congestion and itching, a few common acupoints can be massaged for a few minutes several times a day with the fingertips: Yintang (located right between the eyebrows), Yinxiang or LI 20 (located on the nasolabial groove adjacent to the nostrils), and finally Hegu or LI4, (located on the back of the hand between the thumb and index finger).

Fay-Meling von Moltke Pao, DAc, BHSc, Hon.BA, is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Oriental medicine in Toronto, Ontario. After completing her degree in Biomedical Ethics at the University of Toronto, she continued her studies and graduated from a four-year degree program in Acupuncture and Oriental medicine from the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences (recognized by ACAOM). In her practice, Fay-Meling combines classical and modern acupuncture techniques with herbal medicine, nutrition and diet therapy, counselling, tuina (Chinese massage therapy), and qigong where appropriate.

"My aim is to provide patients with an integrative form of health care that utilizes the best of eastern and western medicine. As such, I am committed to working closely with other physicians and health care practitioners involved in an individual's care, and enabling the person's own healing abilities. I warmly welcome all patients to my clinic."

-Fay-Meling von Moltke Pao

For more information on her practice and Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine please visit her website at:


  1. Krapp K, Longe JL (eds.) (2001) Gale encyclopedia of alternative medicine: volume 1 Detroit: Gale Group.

  2. Maciocia G (1994) The practice of chinese medicine: the treatment of diseases with acupuncture and chinese herbs. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

  3. Maclean W, Littleton J (1998) Clinical handbook of internal medicine-the treatment of disease with traditional chinese medicine-volume 1. Sydney: University of Western Sydney.

  4. Phillips S. Allergic Rhinitis and Acupuncture. Accessed 2003-01-24 from
    Ying ZZ, De JH (1997) Clinical manual of chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone


This Month's Articles

May, 2005
Volume 3, Number 5

Acupuncture Face-Lift:
Rejuvenation from the Outside In

Allergic Rhinitis from a TCM Perspective

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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