Are you congested? Do you have sinusitis, stuffy, dull headaches, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes and dry itchy skin? Spring weather can be glorious and green with flowers and trees blossoming. On the other hand, environmental allergies can make you miserable and often trigger asthma or eczema; in fact more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies every year!
Imagine five people in a conference room decorated with bouquets of flowers; a couple of them are unaffected, two start sneezing and one develops asthma. Are the flowers to blame or is this linked to our immune response? Allergy symptoms are caused by histamines which are chemicals released by the mast cells in the body when they spot what they consider an ‘invader’ or ‘pathogen’ which can be anything from pollen, mold, dust, to benign food like nuts. In western medicine, we typically manage allergies with ant-histamines and steroids (and in anaphylactic allergies that are life threatening, epinephrine injections and ER visits).
How does the 5,000 year old science of Ayurveda view allergies?
Ayurvedic View of Allergies
According to Ayurveda, the primary cause of allergies is accumulation of toxins (Ama) combined with lowered immunity (Vyadhikshamatwam). They can be caused by genetic factors, inappropriate diet, lifestyle, stress, trauma, seasonal changes or chronic ailments that deplete Ojas (vital life force) and weaken the immune system.
When the digestive and metabolic fire or Agni is weak, Doshas (energy principles) go out of balance and Ama accumulates. Ama acts as an antigen triggering an auto-immune reaction that can manifest as respiratory, skin or gut allergies and often, a combination of these. Consider a pipe with bends; when water at high pressure goes through the pipe, any weak bend breaks. Similarly, the weak system or Khavaigunya in different people varies and that influences their body’s allergic response. In Ayurveda, we attempt a root cause analysis to provide a comprehensive, personalized plan managing Rogis (clients) with allergies in a holistic manner. This is important because we could have a Rogi present with what starts as a simple bout of hay fever (allergic rhinitis), progresses to asthma and later to COPD. Ayurveda is very effective in dialing back the symptoms of chronic ailments.
The Ayurvedic approach to allergy management involves
- Avoiding causative factors—if you’re allergic to pollen, say, it helps to try and stay indoors when pollen counts are high, keep the doors and windows closed with air conditioning on, car set to circulation of internal air and when you come home from outdoors, shower, wash your hair and change your clothes.
- Stabilizing the system, restoring balance and strengthening immune resistance through Ayurvedic interventions. These can involve Shamana (pacification through diet, lifestyle and herbal formulations) and Shodhana (cleansing treatments like Panchakarma).
- Reintroducing the sensitive items eventually in an integrative approach.
Doshas and Types of Allergies
Everyone has a unique Prakriti, or Ayurvedic constitution (find out more through this quiz) and Vikrati, or imbalance. A person with kapha imbalance could have kapha allergies anytime but particularly during kapha seasons (which include Spring)! Kapha is a cool, damp, dense, moist, soft and slow principal that could cause excess mucous, poor digestion, swelling and edema, lethargy, depression and weight gain when it goes out of balance. When we honor Ritucharya (follow a seasonal regimen and align with nature), this helps prevent or manage seasonal disorders like allergies.
There are three types of allergies,
- Kapha is the energy principal of earth and water, the energy of cohesion that dominates during late winter and spring. Kapha allergy symptoms are congestion, mucus, runny nose, productive cough, sinusitis, heaviness and headaches.
- Pitta is the energy principal of fire and water, the energy of metabolism which dominates during summer. Pitta allergies often manifest on the skin as allergic dermatitis, hives, rash and burning, red, inflamed eyes, heartburn and nausea; and inflammation in the respiratory tract.
- Vata is the energy principal of air and ether, the energy of movement which dominates during fall and early winter. Vata allergies are typically dry cough, wheezing, sneezing, dry eyes, burping, bloating, aches and pains, insomnia and restlessness.
Spring: Nature’s New Year
Spring is nature’s New Year! In the US, Ayurveda considers it as the time when Agni is at its lowest. During winter, kapha increases but it doesn’t cause an imbalance. When the season transitions to spring, the weather warms up and much like snow melting, accumulated kapha overflows and clogs channels (Srotas). The weather could be wet, dense and heavy and we are an extension of nature; this increases the same tendencies in our body and clogged channels and build-up of Ama causes allergies. We combat this with two simple principles, ‘like increases like’ and ‘opposites balance each other.’ For instance, to avoid heaviness, we eat light food and stay active. Similarly, to combat cold, we have warm food with warming spices—and bundle up!
Ten Ways to combat Spring Allergies
- Strengthen the agni and eliminate ama. Try digestive teas like CCF, Ayush Kwath, Tulsi tea, Ginger tea or Trikatu tea. The steps that follow also aim at Agni management.
- Balance doshas and deal with any underlying health issues you may have to combat allergies (schedule an Ayurvedic consultation with one of our experts)!
- Favor a kapha pacifying diet; minimize cold, heavy, fried, sour and salty foods, sweets, refined sugar, refined flour and dairy. Favor bitter, pungent and astringent tastes, legumes, whole grains like brown rice, basmati, barley, millets, quinoa and amaranth, lightly cooked vegetables particularly greens, warming spices like ginger, cumin, mustard seeds, cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon. Reduce fermented foods, nuts and seeds, nightshades and avoid incompatible foods. Avoid salads, yoghurt, ice creams and cold beverages.
- Incorporate these routines in your Dinacharya or daily regimen,
- Start the day with warm water, lemon (if it suits you) and local honey.
- Try Jal Neti for a gentle saline rinse to flush out mucus, debris or pollutants that can trigger an allergic response; this particularly helps with kapha congestion. Make sure you are trained to do this practice or do it under the guidance of a trained yoga or Ayurveda practitioner.
- Do a daily Nasya. Apply a couple of drops of oil to the nostrils (Anu Thaila, Sesame oil, Shadbindu Thaila, Ghee or Coconut oil).
- Oil pulling. In the morning, take a teaspoon of sesame, coconut oil or Arimedadi oil, swish it about in the mouth for about three minutes and spit it out.
- If you have allergies, gargle with warm water, a pinch of turmeric and salt, or water boiled with Triphala and Yashtimadhu
- Try steam inhalation with Ajwain (carom seeds) or mint, eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil.
- Get moving! Step up your exercise, whether it be biking, walking, dancing or anything you enjoy. But be mindful—if going outdoors triggers allergies, you could stick to exercising indoors.
- Try active yoga with sun salutations, back bends, warrior, triangle and tree pose, Padmasadhana, brief inversions and bridge pose. Incorporate warming pranayama like Bhastrika and Kapal Bhati. Other powerful pranayama practices for allergies include Ujjayi, Nodi Shodhana and SKY breathwork.
- Minimize exposure to cold (internally, through warm food and externally, by staying warm!). You can reduce cold showers or make sure you don’t go out with wet hair.
- Avoid daytime sleep, which increases kapha.
- Do an Ayurvedic cleanse. In the US, spring is the best time for a therapeutic Ayurvedic cleanse, it stokes the digestive fire, corrects imbalances and most importantly, prevents their recurrence in the future according to the root text, Charaka Samhita.
- Meditate regularly. There is a link between stress and allergy symptoms and besides boosting immunity and its other myriad health benefits, meditation is the most powerful tool to reduce stress.
Managing Respiratory Allergies
Spring allergies are mostly respiratory allergies and are caused by vata vitiation with kapha aggravation. They can start with nasal congestion and progress to sinusitis and chronic cough. Doing Nasya regularly helps (but don’t do it during an active sinusitis infection) Try turmeric milk and local raw honey which facilitates the body getting used to environmental allergies. Respiratory allergies (read more in this article) progress through different stages and targeted formulations at each stage can include,
- Vata stage of acute sneezing and throat irritation—Indukantham Ghritam or Kwatham and Agasthyarasayanam.
- Kapha Stage of congestion with thick, white phlegm—Decoction of Dashamula, Tulsi, Trikatu and Vasa.
- Pitta stage or the infective stage with yellow or green phlegm; Neem, Guduchi, Turmeric, Vasa with Amrutharistham, Vasaristham and Kaishorevatakam (be sure to use integrative medicine at this stage).
As part of your immunity kit, you could add Kabasura Kudineer, Amruth, Shakti Drops, Turmeric Plus and Tulasi Arka to your daily regimen which will help with allergies as well. Other formulations to alleviate allergy symptoms include Sitopladi, Talisadi, Ashwagandha, Yashtimadhu and Chyawanprash. Any Ayurvedic protocol is individualized and be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner before you take herbal formulations.
We are still in the midst of the pandemic or JanapadadhwamsaVyadhi as it is called in Ayurveda. COVID-19 is a Vata Kapha Jwara (and can progress to become Sannipatika or impact all Doshas). If you have any respiratory symptoms, here are some guidelines on how to tell whether they are symptoms of seasonal allergies, cold, flu, asthma or COVID-19. Please be sure to seek medical help.
Remember, we are together in this! One thing that the pandemic has taught us is that we should attend to our health and well-being, boost our immunity, and reduce stress. That said, I hope your spring is hopeful, joyous, and allergy free! This is a time to cleanse more than just our homes; it’s also time to shed whatever weighs us down. To quote Luther Burbank, “Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.”