Ayurveda, the natural way to treat allergies
We possess a wonderfully complex immune system. When in balance, it identifies and eliminates potential threats to health such as toxins, bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. However, sometimes our immune system responds too strongly to a substance in the environment that is usually harmless, such as pollen, animal dander or mould. As the body acts to expel the perceived threat, we experience the uncomfortable symptoms of an allergy reaction. These can include runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing and itchy, watery eyes. This kind of an exaggerated immune response can also manifest in the lungs as asthma or in the skin as hives and eczema. A lot of people are affected by allergies. Let us examine the common phenomena of environmental and seasonal allergies.
What causes allergies?
Why it is that one person can enjoy walking through a field of flowers, while a single flower can cause severe allergic reactions in another. Heredity is a major factor.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, in addition to inherited tendencies, there are other factors that lead to the incidence and severity of allergic reactions. These include the digestive ability (known as agni or fire), the quantity of allergen that enters the body and the state of balance in the doshas.
Balancing the doshas
A person’s primary dosha, or mind-body constitution, can often predict the allergy symptoms which are likely to appear. So it’s important to understand your dosha type as well as the imbalance therein.
Allergy symptoms in Kapha dosha
In Ayurveda, typical springtime allergy symptoms like congestion, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes are described as an accumulation of the Kapha dosha. Kapha dosha is perceived to be made up of earth and water elements. Imbalance in this dosha leads to excessive mucus accumulation in the head and sinuses. This condition can make one feel lethargic.
In Ayurveda, Kapha allergy symptoms are treated with astringent herbs and spices like ginger, cayenne, pepper, basil, cumin, cardamom, sage, turmeric and cinnamon. Drinking warm honey-water or ginger-lemon tea is also recommended. Triphala is another classical Ayurvedic herbal treatment to reduce Kapha.
Allergy symptoms in Pitta dosha
Summertime allergy symptoms are often the manifestation of an imbalanced Pitta dosha. Pitta is governed by the elements of water and fire. In summer, excess heat can produce inflammation in the respiratory tract and skin. The symptoms appear as rash, headache, burning or red eyes, sinusitis and bronchitis.
To calm Pitta and the attendant allergy symptoms, Ayurveda recommends cooling herbs such as coriander, cilantro, shatavari, guduchi, amalaki and neem.
Allergy symptoms in Vata dosha
When Vata is out of balance, allergic symptoms that manifest include headache, wheezing, sneezing and aching muscles. These typically appear in the autumn as the air becomes cold and dry. Ayurveda attributes this to the accumulation of the lighter elements of space and air in the mind-body system. Other manifestations of this Vata imbalance include dry cough, restlessness and dry eyes.
To bring Vata back into balance, Ayurveda uses herbs such as ashwagandha which calms the exaggerated response of the immune system to allergens. Ayurveda also recommends performing a self-massage or abhyhanga, for added relief.