Asian Medicine for Change in the Weather (or, Options for Allergies, Asthma, and other Respiratory Problems) (October, 2006)
By Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac
Have you been experiencing any bouts of allergies or asthma recently? Do you have a cold or sinus infection that you cannot seem to make go away? The Valley’s dry climate and high particulate count in the air are only part of the problem. Most recently, the weather has become cooler with the change of the seasons. When the weather turns cooler, the moisture from the late, damp summer is almost depleted overnight from the air. Consequently, we tend to experience dryness in our respiratory system. Our nose and sinuses get dry. Even our skin, which is viewed as part of our respiratory system according to Asian or Oriental Medicine & Acupuncture (AOM) because it “breathes” air and moisture, gets very dry. This dryness goes beyond the typical dryness we experience just from living in the desert on a daily basis. For example, our fingertips, hands and feet get more chapped. We feel more dehydrated and we experience more tightness in our neck and shoulders.
For many of us, this dryness creates the perfect environment for us to get the seasonal cold & flu. At the very least, we might experience asthma and allergies. This is because the dryness in the air allows the mucous membranes in our nose, throat and lungs to get irritated and dry. For some of us, we get a dry, wheezing asthma. Others get red, itchy throat and eyes, leading to sneezing and allergies. This dryness and irritation also creates greater exposure to viruses (also called “wind evils” in AOM) because the normal moisture barrier is gone. Often, the body will then send in more mucous to lubricate our respiratory system. This excess mucous, while helpful, may be annoying when it creates either a wet-type of asthma (with a gurgling sound) or the typical runny nose from allergies. If this mucous is not cleared, it can become stagnant and heated by the body, turning yellow. Often diagnosed as an infection, it is commonly termed as a Wind Heat Evil with Toxin or Heated Phlegm.
There are a multitude of Asian and Western herbal remedies available over the counter or from a comprehensively trained practitioner (ideally one should seek a Licensed Acupuncturist with over 450 hours of additional training in herbal medicine). Some of my favorite, most effective herbs to use when one gets to this point (the need to clear heat and toxins) include: Lian Qiao (Forsythia flower), Ban Lan Gen (Isatis or Woad root), or Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower). Oftentimes these herbs are wisely combined with other herbs into balanced formulas that addresses the entire imbalance, with additional herbs such as Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum flower) or Bo He (Peppermint leaf) to clear heat in the head.
There are other formulas which successfully address all forms of asthma. There are actually more than a dozen types of asthma in Asian Medicine, depending on one’s constitution and situation. By correctly determining the exact type for each asthma sufferer, Asian medicine is extremely effective in eliminating asthma and the need for inhalers or steroids.
But what can one do to deal with the basic discomfort from the change in the weather? This is an important consideration, for by effectively adapting to weather changes, one can stave off colds and flus. (Indeed the famous Spanish Flu which decimated large numbers of our population seemed to increase cyclically during these times of weather change when colds and flus proliferated.) Thus, it is even more important to handle these changes in order to maintain one’s immunity overall. Some of the recommended ways to stay healthy and combat this dryness include:
• While drinking plenty of water is good, it is also important that this water be accompanied by lubricating elements. Have you ever noticed how overwashing your hands can wick away the moisture and make them excessively dry? For the same reasons that we put lotion on our hands, it is important to lubricate internally. One of the best ways is to eat pears or drink pear juice during the fall, which is lubricating to the lungs and respiratory system. I regularly add organic pear juice to my child’s water to ensure there is added lubrication. Another lubricant is American ginseng (not Siberian, Korean or Chinese red ginsengs which are warming and can be drying) which typically comes from Wisconsin and provides moisture. Eating more fruits and vegetables also helps in this way.
• Use of a humidifier or a steam bath is helpful to moisten the skin and respiratory system. A bit of sesame, olive, or eucalyptus oil on the fingertips inhaled into the nose can add some lubricating moisture.
• When you start to feel hot and dry, try some Chrysanthemum tea which clears heat from the head and eyes. By then, one might also have some tightness in the neck and shoulders which should be massaged in order to open up the meridians (energetic pathways) to the head to allow circulation of fluids. Oftentimes tightness in the shoulders due to stress can increase the likelihood of allergies because of this lack of circulation. One great formula is called Xiao Yao Wan (or Relaxed Wanderer) which has a variety of herbs to deal with “stagnant” energy (this same formula is also great for PMS). Also avoid chills to the back of the neck and shoulders (often contracted from our air conditioned rooms) which will cause muscle contractions.
• A visit to a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) is great at this time, either preventatively to help adjust to the weather change or to deal with allergies or asthma, or even colds & flus. By paying attention to how the change in the weather affects you, it is possible to prevent and manage its impact on your system so you can stay healthy and enjoy the cooler weather. By paying attention to how the change in the weather affects you, it is possible to prevent and manage its impact on your system so you can stay healthy and enjoy the cooler weather.
Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac. is the President and Founder of the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture (PIHMA), College & Clinic, the Valley’s only accredited college of Asian Medicine.