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Allergies in Chinese Medicine: an Earthy Perspective

Hello again, Friends!


In the last blog post, I wrote about Spring and its significance within Chinese Medicine. I drew upon a common agricultural metaphor to illustrate themes of renewal associated with the season—i.e., turning over fallow soil in preparation for the impending burst of new growth. Despite wood being the primary element of spring, when I began to write, I continually found myself drawn back to the earth. Just as the health and vitality of a forest or a carefully cultivated field cannot be attained without nutritious soil, we, too, must cultivate OUR earth if we want to remain healthy throughout the seasons.


The earth element comprises the Stomach and the Spleen and is a critical player in the planned topic of this installment: springtime allergies. I’ve deviated slightly by spending the majority of this blog discussing Chinese Medicine theory. If you’re here for a few quick tips to mitigate symptoms, skip to the bottom section, but if you have time to “dig” deeper into the interplay between the elements and organ systems at the root of allergies, keep reading!


Chinese Organ Systems and Allergies

spleen earth chinese medicine
The Spleen is the Yin Organ of the Earth Element.

The Spleen governs the transformation and transportation (i.e., metabolism) of nutrients from digestive processes. The “essence” (nutrients) derived from food is used to create Qi (with the help of the Lungs) and blood (which is made in the Heart).

Because the functions of the Stomach and Spleen are vital to maintaining adequate levels of blood and Qi, entire schools of acupuncture were developed around the earth element as the primary source of health and disease. The Chinese knew long before scientists began to study the microbiome that tending to your “soil” is essential to every aspect of health!


The Spleen regulates the upward movement of Qi and the muscles; when the spleen isn't functioning well, you may experience symptoms like fatigue and weakness. The health of the Spleen is said to be reflected in the mouth and the lips; symptoms of disharmony include loss of the sense of taste, low appetite, and chronically dry, pale, or cracked lips.

Intelligence (Yi) is housed by the Spleen, making it particularly vulnerable to overthinking and rumination. Lastly, the spleen is responsible for the proper digestion and metabolism of fluids. If the spleen becomes overwhelmed due to overwork or poor diet, fluids can accumulate, forming "dampness" and phlegm.

In this medical system, dampness is a disease-causing entity that occurs for many reasons, including exposure to a damp environment, overuse of antibiotics, improper diet, and stress. Generally, it is equated to water metabolism and mucus formation, but tumors and other solid masses are often attributed to long-term dampness/phlegm.


Still with me?


The Spleen and Stomach are elementally paired. However, all organs have two pairings. One represents a particular element's yin and yang manifestations, and the other is based on the six levels. The six levels are crucial for understanding how Qi circulates throughout the body and how diseases develop. Arranged from the most superficial to the deepest, they are Tai Yang, Yang Ming, Shao Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yin, and Jue Yin. In this way, the Spleen is paired with the Lungs, comprising the Tai Yin level.

The lungs correspond to the metal element and play a key role in Qi regulation, including a specific form of Qi known as Wei Qi (or defensive Qi). Wei Qi moves across the body's surface, protecting against external pathogens. Additionally, the lungs control the blood vessels, the spread of body fluids, and the condition of the skin. As in Western physiology, they connect to the nose and sinuses.

Described as the "upper source of water," the lungs receive fluids from the spleen and distribute them to the skin and tissues, while the so-called impure fluids are sent to the large intestine (the Lung's elemental pair). If the spleen or lungs (or both) are impaired or weak, dampness and phlegm can accumulate within the digestive and respiratory systems.


Chinese medicine adage:

“The Spleen is the root of phlegm; the lungs are the place where phlegm is stored.”


If the Lung and/or spleen are weak, unseen airborne pathogens (e.g., pollen, viruses, etc.) can enter the body via “wind.” These factors exacerbate accumulated dampness and phlegm, resulting in the typical symptoms of seasonal allergies: sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion, itchy eyes (associated with liver involvement), conjunctivitis, and pharyngitis.


Although not “paired” with each other in any sense, the Liver and Lungs interact because of their shared responsibility to distribute Qi throughout the body. Issues with Tai Yin (the Lung/Spleen axis) can affect the liver by causing Qi stagnation. Similarly, Liver Qi stagnation caused by stress can affect digestion.

 In a nutshell:


Damp accumulation due to Spleen dysfunction (SP) + Lung's weakened defensive Qi (LU) + Liver Qi stagnation = Allergies.


However, the interaction of these factors with an individual's unique constitution, genetics, and external environmental influences (such as deforestation, climate change, pollution, urban ecology, and pesticide exposure) determines susceptibility to allergies. [1, 2]


How to Manage Allergies

The best thing we can do to mitigate allergy symptoms is to eat a healthy diet (see the last post for spring dietary tips) and strive to balance work and play. However, I know from first-hand experience that it is easier said than done! Due to both foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, my diet this week has consisted entirely of burritos and pizza! While no food is inherently “bad,” I indeed lost balance! I’m grateful I had this blog to write; it’s been my medicine!


Dairy is the most important food group to limit if you suffer from allergies, especially if nasal symptoms are predominant. In Chinese medicine dietary therapy, dairy is a highly nutritious and cooling food beneficial for those with dryness (eyes, skin, hair) and who have a general yin deficiency (lack of fluids). [3] Most of us in the West, or those who consume Western diets (now a global phenomenon), eat too much dairy.  One study found an association between a Western diet (defined as high in dairy, nuts, snacks, and sugar) and allergic rhinitis in healthy Iranian women. [4] There are more data on this subject, but I’ll leave that for another post!


Other things you can do to reduce allergy symptoms:

1.     Get an acupuncture treatment! Acupuncture, moxa, and cupping can assist the Spleen, Lungs, and Liver with Qi-moving, water-metabolizing, and immune-regulating functions. Acupuncture is also great for managing the symptoms of allergic rhinitis—several powerful points on the face, scalp, and body help drain the sinuses. Book here.

2.     Try a homeopathic or herbal remedy. We carry a homeopathic formula called Allernest and a lung-focused tea by Acknowledge Wellness. For the most personalized approach, see Breanne for a custom herbal formula (I’ll discuss Chinese herbs and allergies in the next post).

3.     Get steamy—nothing feels better than steam when you’re suffering from congestion; add the Acknowledge Wellness facial steam herbs to enhance its clearing properties. If steam isn't your thing, use a dab of White Tiger balm just below the nose to open the sinuses for congestion relief.

Until next time!







1.         Maciocia, G., The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Vol. 2. 2005: Elsevier.

2.         Sionneau, B.F.a.P., The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases With Chinese Medicine. 3 ed. 2007, Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press.

3.         Pitchford, P., Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. 1993, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

4.         Rezapour, H., et al., A Western dietary pattern is related to higher risk of allergic rhinitis in young women. Revue Française d'Allergologie, 2022. 62(5): p. 470-477.



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