What is an allergy? When you think of allergies, you think of runny nose, itchy eyes, headache, cloudy head, and feeling all around crappy. The feeling of allergies is one of leaking and being stuck. You’re leaking fluids from the nose, eyes, and skin, and those fluids are also stuck (inflamed and swollen sinuses, muscle pain, etc), which makes your head hurt and gives you a cloudy head.
In Chinese medicine, allergies are due to the exterior of the body “not being secure”. Metaphorically, this means that, on the one hand, something is trying to enter from the outside (allergen or pathogen) and the exterior of the body is not tight enough to keep it out. On the other hand, the body is also not secure enough to keep fluids in. This is why you have a runny nose and can feel clammy or have a dislike of wind or drafts. Because the exterior is not secure, fluids don’t move correctly and have a tendency to get stuck and backed up. That’s why you feel achey.
The standard approach to allergies is to use antihistamines, which have been shown to suppress the immune response. This is like opening a stuck door even wider. Sure, the symptoms are gone because fluids can move. But, now the door is wide open and anything can just walk right into your house. Likewise, the typical herbal approach is to use herbs that “release the exterior”. These are herbs that are often used in cold/flu presentations to promote a sweat, such as, catnip, vervain, ground ivy, etc. However, this is also not a great long-term approach, as this only looks at the exterior of the body. The Classical Chinese approach recognizes that the exterior of the body can only be as strong as the interior allows it to be. So, if you want to really get rid of allergies and keep them from coming back, you really need to work from the inside out.
Getting rid of allergies is possible, so long as we take a whole-body approach. This is more involved than simple symptom suppression. But, at the end of the day, it’s worth it to not have to keep dealing with them.