Mild allergies are a common problem for young children. According to Zhou Yan, a TCM physician at Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre @ Camden, allergic reactions occur when the body's immune system reacts to allergens.
Allergies depend on internal (genetic) as well as external factors. "Each individual's body constitution is different," Zhou Yan points out. "Some people are more sensitive to certain allergens. Sometimes, this sensitivity is passed down from the parents. If one parent has a sensitive constitution, then the child has a 30-per-cent likelihood of having the same constitution. If both parents have a sensitive constitution, this likelihood rises to above 50 per cent."
However, TCM practitioners like Zhou Yan believe that children are more susceptible to external allergens as "they are still growing and their internal organs and immune systems are still developing." These allergens can take the form of food or household products. In Singapore, the most common environmental allergens are house dust mites. Dust and pollen can also trigger allergic reactions when the fine particles are inhaled, adds Zhou Yan.
Unlike Western medicine, TCM treatments don't just address the symptoms but get to the root of the condition. Based on the belief that allergic problems are due to a dysfunction of the lungs, spleen and kidney and body fluid imbalance, the treatments therefore target these ideas accordingly, with the aim of reconciling the internal organs, body fluids and yin-yang balance, explains Xiao Li Ming, TCM practitioner at Si En TCM Medical Clinic.
"Generally, herbal medication would be prescribed - to alleviate discomfort and nourish the internal organs, particularly the liver an dspleen - to help reduce the allergic reaction over time. With proper nourishment, we can build up a patient's body constitution and thus his immune system. TCM herbs that help nourish the lungs and build up the spleen include astragalus, codonopsis, Chinese yam, lily, Chinese wolfberry and barley," she says.
Common allergies among children include eczema and hives, allergic rhinitis, asthma and food allergies - all of which can lead to a poorer quality of life. Kids may experience problems with sleep and have trouble doing physical activities.
Eczema refers to the red, dry, scaly and itchy patches of skin on various parts of the body, but typically appears inside the elbows, back of the knees and the neck, says Li Ming. The rashes look unsightly and can severely affect a child's self-esteem. The itching is not only uncomfortable and unpleasant, it might cause the child to scratch himself frequently, further worsening the condition.
TCM Treatment: Eczema is believed to be due to lung weakness, as well as the accumulation of dampness and toxins in the body. Says Li Ming: "For these conditions, we have to first remove the toxins from the body, accelerate the patient's blood circulation and restore the function of the lungs as a "defence wall" against external allergens. A combination of acupuncture and herbal treatments is usually recommended for better results.
Often triggered by allergens such as peanuts, pollens or dust, hives tend to show up as swollen red bumps on the skin. They usually last for a few hours or up to a day before subsiding.
TCM Treatment: Like eczema, hives are often linked to lung weakness, and toxin build-up and dampness in the body. Similarly, Chinese physicians typically recommend a combination of acupuncture and herbal treatments for best results.
Li Ming says this is often due to lung and kidney weakness, and possibly coldness. Symptoms include an itchy nose (which can extend to the palate, ears and eyes), sneezing - sometimes violently and continuously, runny nose (clear mucous) as well as a stuffy nose. Over time, this can lead to rhinitis, pharyngitis, asthma and other complications.
Some sufferers may also experience a bad cough during the night. This is due to what's known as a post-nasal drip, in which the mucous runs from the nose to the back of the throat, causing irritation, says Li Ming.
TCM treatment: Herbs are often prescribed to boost energy in the lungs and kidneys. Massage or moxibustion - a technique involving the burning of mugwort to facilitate healing - can also improve children's immune defence against allergens or repel cold from the body, advises Li Ming.
Zhou Yan says this prolonged coughing typically lasts more than four weeks and usually takes place at night or in the early morning hours. The cough worsens when the sufferer exercises or enters an air-conditioned room. There may not be any infection, and antibiotics may be of little use. Bronchodilators may be effective, but if there is no proper treatment, the problem can develop into asthma, especially if the sufferer has a sensitive constitution and/or a family history of allergic cough.
TCM treatment: Li Ming says herbs to boost lung and kidney energy are often prescribed. Massage or moxibustion can also be used to improve the immune function of children against allergens and to repel cold from the body.
Cow's milk, eggs, wheat, fruits (such as tangerines), crustaceans, cocoa, chocolate and nuts - especially peanuts - can trigger immune-mediated reactions, says Li Ming. The most common symptoms of food allergies include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and rashes or hives.
TCM treatment: The best method of prevention is to avoid the allergy-triggering food altogether. But when an allergic reaction ha soccurred, treatments like acupuncture and herbal remedies can help restore the function of the spleen and remove toxins from the body, says Li Ming.
This article was originally published in Simply Her May 2015.