An allergy is a response by the body to a substance that is inhaled, swallowed, or touched. The immune system recognizes this intruder and triggers a chain of reactions that cause symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness, watery eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion (stuffy nose).
The real purpose of the immune system is to recognize harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses (which can cause infections), and to trigger a reaction to get rid of them. But in people with allergies the immune system overreacts to ordinarily harmless substances.
Allergies affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic factors. While it's true that allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age or, in some cases, recur after many years of remission. An estimated 25-40% of the population suffer from various allergies.
Although the exact genetic factors are not yet understood, the tendency to allergies, as well as to allergic disease, is linked to heredity. Hundreds or even thousands of ordinary substances can trigger allergic reactions. These are called "allergens." Among the most common are plant pollens, molds, household dust (dust mites), animal dander, industrial chemicals, foods, medicines and insect stings. An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body, but usually appears in the skin, eyes, lining of the stomach, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs.
Allergy remedies can be categorized in three basic ways: avoidance and environmental controls (getting rid of mold and mildew, dust mite bedding covers, and hepa air filters), immunotherapy (allergy shots) and symptom relief (drugs such as Clarinex, Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec).
Drug therapy is by far the most common allergy treatment prescribed by conventional medicine. Drugs can be successful in suppressing the manifestations of an allergy, but in order to provide an effective relief often have to be taken on a daily basis. They also produce undesirable side effects, have various contraindications and might interfere with other medications. Many people have been unsatisfied with drug therapy, as it only gives temporary relief and does not remove the underlying cause of an allergy.
The ancient Chinese believed that there is a universal life energy called Qi (pronounced as "Chee") present in every living creature. This energy is said to circulate throughout the body along specific pathways that are called meridians. As long as this energy flows freely along the meridians, health is maintained. However, once the flow of energy is blocked, the system is disrupted and illness occurs. Oriental medicine aims to remove the blockages and restore the normal flow of Qi, thus promoting the body's ability to heal itself.
An allergy is defined in terms of what a substance does to the energy flow in the body. When contact is made with an allergen, it causes Qi blockages. The blocked energy flow is the first step in a chain of events that can develop into an allergic response.
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Treatment with acupuncture can either dramatically lessen someone's allergic reactions or, in some cases, completely eliminate them. Whether you're allergic to peanuts or shellfish, ragweed or dog dander doesn't matter. An acupuncturist takes a holistic approach and treats the individual rather than the condition. The allergy symptoms, itchy, watery eyes, and the stuffiness are a way of expressing a deeper down imbalance in your system. By stimulating appropriate points along the meridians acupuncture regulates the entire organism and mobilizes the natural healing capacities of the body and mind. Thus, instead of introducing chemicals such as an antihistamine to control an allergic reaction, acupuncture works with the person's internal "pharmacy."