Life & Style | Health

Allergies and Ayurveda: Rediscover the balance

They can have many symptoms and be caused by multiple factors, but allergies needn’t be the bane of our lives

  • By Binu Sivan
  • Published: 07:00 August 22, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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We have all suffered from it at some point of time or another, as we struggled our way through sneezing or coughing fits, itchy skin that drives us insane, blocked nose and watery eyes and nose.

Allergies are the bane of many people’s lives, and dictate everything from the food they eat to where they will holiday.

According to Ayurveda, the root cause of allergies is the accumulation of toxins (ama) in the body as a result of the digestive fire (AGNI) becoming imbalanced.

Symptoms displayed by a person, or rather the reaction of a person to an allergen, is also related to their doshas and how it interacts with the toxins (ama) in the body. Additionally, factors like a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, seasonal changes, long-term illnesses and trauma can contribute to this imbalanced and further exacerbate the allergies too.

In very simplistic terms, ama is a sticky, toxic residue that is created in the body due to a combination of a weak digestive system and a poor diet. If the digestive fire (AGNI) is also weak then it is not able to digest the meal and as a result ama deposits form in the digestive tract.

Continuous build-up of AMA results in it moving beyond the digestive system into the circulatory system and settling in bodily tissues and clogging internal pathways.

To protect the body from the build-up and spread of ama, the immune system kicks into high gear and even becomes overly defensive, at times reacting to harmless items like pollens too.

Fact Box

Dosha and Allergies

A person’s dosha has a huge impact on how their body reacts to an allergen, causing very specific symptoms. It is important to understand that while we have primary doshas, we all have all the three doshas and therefore can experience symptoms of any of the doshas.

Pitta Dosha

Pitta disha imbalance is often considered the underlying source of summer time allergies. The allergies usually manifest in the form of sore red eyes and inflamed itchy nose, headache, rashes, inflammation of the sinuses and airways besides sneezing attacks and low fever.

Treatment

To pacify Pitta related allergy Ayurveda recommends cooling herbs like coriander that can be included into one’s dishes. Herbs like shatavari, amalaki, and neem are also helpful. Clarified butter or ghee also help balance the Pitta dosha. Follow a Pitta soothing diet and avoid fried food, processed and spicy food, chillies, onions, garlic, red meat, egg yolks, caffeine, alcohol, sour, acidic and fermented foods, aged cheeses and excess salt. Fruits that are citrus in nature and strawberries should also be avoided. Home remedies like steeping half a teaspoon of amalaki in boiling water and drinking it or having neem leaf tea three or four times a day is beneficial or a glass of warm milk with half a teaspoon of turmeric also work their magic.

Vata Dosha

Vata dosha related allergies are usually triggered by dry dust and cause the throat, nose and sinuses to run dry. The allergic symptoms of this imbalance include dry cough, restlessness, dry eyes, headache, wheezing, sneezing and muscle aches and are more common during the fall months when the air become cold and dry. Factors like dust, mold, wind, dryness and cold worsen the Vata imbalance. Typical Vata related allergic symptoms are gas and bloating, abdominal discomfort, intestinal colic, and insomnia, besides wheezing, sneezing, dry cough, and runny nose.

Treatment

To treat the Vata imbalance based allergies one can do any of the following:

Stay hydrated and drink warm liquids like ginger tea with honey. Asashwagandha, a calming herb works well to calm the immune system’s heightened response to allergens, when a teaspoon of it is taken along with a cup of warm milk at bedtime. Abhyanga or oil application using sesame oil also works wonders. Sesame oil help ease dry, painful nasal passages. Liquorice or mulethi tea will relieve a dry and raspy throat. One must avoid food that cause bloating and gas like larger legumes like black, pinto, garbanzo, or kidney beans, and vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Even vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant can aggravate Vata related if they are regular part of your diet.

Kapha Dosha

When the Kapha dosha is imbalanced it can cause respiratory allergies and at the same time leave one with a heavy head, stuffy nose and sinuses, lethargy, excessive mucus in the head, drowsiness and swollen eyes. This allergy can be triggered off by mold and other spring related allergens.

Treatment

The best treatment for Kapha related allergies is the nasal cleansing using the neti pot. It cleanses the allergens and also decreases the accumulation of Kapha in the head and sinuses. The nasya oil combined with energising scents like eucalyptus, camphor or juniper, acts as a natural decongestant, thus reducing the feeling of heaviness in the head. Pungent and bitter herbs and spices like ginger, cayenne, pepper, basil, cumin, cardamom, sage, turmeric, and cinnamon also help reduce Kapha build-up. Warm honey water and ginger lemon tea are also great solutions. Chyavanprash taken twice a day and half a teaspoon of Triphala steeped for ten minutes in boiling water are great for treating the Kapha related allergies. Kapha aggravating items like wheat and dairy products should be avoided. Also remove excess sweet, sour and salty tastes, cold drinks, rich foods, and desserts from your diet. Increase the use of warming spices like black pepper, fenugreek, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, and mustard seeds.

HOW TO STRENGTHEN THE ‘AGNI’

The Ayurvedic approach to treating allergies is to treat the root cause of the imbalance that triggered the allergy in the first place. In the case of most allergies the root cause is a weakened AGNI or digestive fire and gets the immunity system back on track. To get it back on track involves more a lifestyle solution than medication.

Meditation

To get an aggressive immunity system in to a calmer state is vital to treating allergies. Meditation helps calm the mind and body and the immunity system will desist from seeing every environmental element as a threat.

Breathing

A yogic breathing technique called Ujjayi (ocean’s breath) also helps calm the system, strengthen the agni and helps control feelings of irritation and frustration.

How to perform the Ujjayi breath exercise:

Inhale a deeper breath than normal. Now exhale through your nose, keeping your mouth closed and your throat muscles constricted, concentrating on epiglottis helps. Your breath will come out in a ‘whoosh’ like the ocean waves. Initially to get the hand of it try and exhale the sound ‘haaah’ through your mouth. Now try and make a similar sound through your nose with your mouth closed. Once you have mastered the exhalation technique you can also inhale while gently constricting your throat.

Neti Pot

A neti pot is used to perform a gentle saline rinse and is a small container with a spout that is placed in your nostril as you tip your head towards one shoulder. This allows the slightly warmed salt water to flow in through one nose and out the other flushing out any foreign material that is lodged in the nasal passage. If the water does not flow out easily through the other nostril it is an indicator of blockage in your nasal passage due to chronic allergies. However with continuous use this blockage will clear. You can see a difference in your breathing after the first saline rinse itself.

Eat Right

Our diet has a huge impact on our allergies. To clear your system, for the first few days, eat light food comprising of hot, clear, oil-free soup made with fresh ginger and black pepper, along with steamed rice. Avoid anything that is cold in nature, including fruits. This will strengthen the digestive system. Ayurveda considers oily and fried food, cold beverages and food, cheese, canned food and leftovers as extremely harmful to allergies, as they clog the digestive system. Opt for food that are warming and drive the toxins out. These are items like black pepper, cinnamon, garlic and ginger, green, leafy vegetables and warm water. Also start your morning with a glass of lukewarm warm water with half a lime’s juice and honey.

Nasya

After your morning ablutions apply two to three drops of cured sesame oil in each nostril to strengthen the nasal mucosal and prevent allergic attacks. It is easy to apply the oil. All you have to do is to lie with your head over the edge of the bed and squeezing 2-3 drops of the oil in each nostril. You can use a dropper to drop the oil in to your nose. Then keeping the other nostril pinched or closed with your index finger, inhale deeply. If any oil spills in to your throat spit it out. Repeat the process for the other nostril. Initially you may feel like blowing your nostril but resist this temptation giving the oil time to permeate the sinuses. Follow this up with a gentle massage of the nose and cheeks towards the forehead. This will help lubricate the mucus membrane and drains the sinus cavity.

How to cure sesame oil?

To cure sesame or any oil, place it in a pot over medium heat and add a drop of water. When the drop of water pops, the oil is cured.

Heat and Steam

Warm coconut or sesame oil massage before a shower works wonders for the body. After applying oil externally, the heat and steam from a hot shower helps open up the sweat glands and this allows the toxins to be excreted as perspiration.

Herbs

Use herbs only with the approval of your Ayurvedic practitioner. Herbs that are usually used to pacify Kapha include mulethi, vasa, pushkar mul and kantakari and powders like Palishadi Churna and Sitopladi Churna and tablets like Lakshmivilas Ras and Vyoshadi Guggulu.

What is an allergy?

Allergies are our body’s immune system’s reaction to specific substance or substances (allergens) that it misidentifies as harmful.

The allergens could be anything from pollen, dust, animal hair, a new detergent, mold or a specific ingredient in a dish, like milk or peanuts.

The body, in order to protect itself from the trigger allergen, produces antibodies which causes certain cells to release chemicals (most notably histamine) into the bloodstream.

Allergies can range from mild to fatal and commonly manifest themselves as skin and respiratory disorders such as eczema, hives, hay fever, asthma, sneezing or coughing fits, burning, watery or itchy eyes, scratchy throat, itchy or runny nose, recurring headaches, sinus congestion, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and in severe cases as asthmatic and anaphylactic attacks.

In some cases allergies are hereditary but a person can develop an allergy at any age.

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