Sneezing, sniffling, watery eyes, nasal congestion and pain, itchy rashes and food intolerances: allergy symptoms can be very annoying and disruptive. Sufferers will try pills, nasal sprays and shots, often with little desirable effect. Have you been around the allergy block and now seek something different? Try the ancient Chinese method: Acupuncture.

Both eastern and western medicine agree: allergy symptoms, be it sneezing, running nose, nasal or sinus congestion and headaches, or even allergic skin reactions and digestive conditions, such as hives, atopic eczema and food intolerances are due to poor immune function. Western medicine tries to block hyper-immune response with sprays and pills, and overload the immune system circuits with allergy shots. Chinese medicine takes a different approach to treating allergies.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (1) [TCM] uses a two-pronged ‘root and branch’ approach to treating allergic reactions. ‘Root and branch’ treatment means separating the allergic disease process into two different treatment strategies by addressing ‘branch’ symptoms and the ‘root’ cause or condition separately. First, the acupuncturist focuses on alleviating the branch symptoms of the disorder: sneezing, running nose, congestion, hives, and digestive problems. Then, after branch symptoms are contained, or between attacks for seasonal allergies, the treatment strategy changes to treating the ‘root’ problem: weak immune system and function.

TCM sees the weakened immune system as the crux of the problem. The immune system is not strong enough to fight allergens: dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, chemical or food. In order to fully resolve symptoms, tonification is neccessary to build or strengthen immune function so that the system will no longer be overwhelmed by the allergic response to pathogens. However when symptoms are present (running nose, congestion and pain, rashes), treatment must be directed to addressing and containing the branch issues: drying up and opening the nasal passages, alleviating pain, improving digestion, returning skin to normal appearance and texture.

This two-pronged approach is very effective at eliminating symptoms for allergy sufferers, but it does take some time to achieve. During the height of allergy season, weekly treatments are usually needed to address branch symptoms. As the season comes to an end, and symptoms abate, root tonification begins and can continue for three to six months or more, depending on duration and severity of symptoms indicating the degree of weakness in immune function. When new attacks occur, treatment reverts to focusing on branch symptoms. Treatment continues until the root condition, the weakened immune system, is fully strengthened and functioning normally so that allergy symptoms no longer occur.

In my practice, I use a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas (teas). I have patients come weekly for acupuncture treatments while symptoms persist. Between attacks, I space visits three to four weeks apart and rely on individualized herbal formulas to strengthen immune function. I have found this approach very effective in relieving allergy symptoms. In time, symptoms are fully treated and the allergic condition is resolved. Patients may come every three to six months for maintenance treatments, with little to no recurrence in symptoms. I have found allergic skin conditions such as hives and eczema respond more quickly to Chinese medicine. Lung (nasal and sinus) and digestive problems are deeper in the system. They take a little longer to treat, but do respond well to Chinese medical treatment.


(1) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an umbrella term describing the use of many different yet related medical modalities that work together in a unified holistic system for treating disease. Developed in ancient China 5,000-7,000 years ago and currently practiced in the hospital setting in modern China and throughout central Asia, TCM includes the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy and meditative exercises called Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Author's Bio: 

Kath Bartlett, MS, LAc is the owner of the Asheville Center for Chinese Medicine. Bartlett practices in a traditional Chinese style incorporating acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tui Na massage, dietary and lifestyle counseling to treat a wide variety of health conditions. She achieves effective results treating back, neck, knee and joint pain, headaches, allergies & sinus problems, chronic bronchitis, fatigue, fibromyalgia, heartburn, bowel problems, PMS, menstrual pain, Perimenopausal complaints (including hot flashes) depression and anxiety, insomnia, non-responsive eczema, hives and acne.

Bartlett has been a contributing writer for several Asheville publications, including: Rapid River Arts Magazine, Whole Health News and New Life Journal, and online journals: Pacific College of Oriental Medicine Newsletter and The Pulse of Oriental Medicine e-magazine. She has lectured about Chinese medicine at various colleges and civic organizations, including the MAHEC Residency Program, A&B Technical College and UNCA's College for Seniors. Bartlett has appeared as a featured guest on the "Health Watch" segment of KUSI News in San Diego.

Bartlett earned her Masters of Science degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, San Diego. Bartlett is Board Certified in Oriental Medicine by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). She completed advance studies of the classics texts of Chinese medical theory with Dr. Min Fan, formally of Bei Jing University. Bartlett received her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA.

Bartlett is a founder of the Western North Carolina Acupuncture Society and a member of the American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM).

Bartlett can be contacted for acupuncture treatments or herbal consultations at Asheville Center for Chinese Medicine 70 Woodfin Place, Suite West Wing Two, Asheville, NC 28801. 828 258-2777