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Allergies: The Ayurvedic Picture

[Article from Banyan Botanicals]

Why is it that the blossoming of spring means freshness and beauty for some but spells misery and allergy nightmares for others? The sneezing, hay fever, coughing, wheezing, red and itchy eyes, and skin rashes, hives and eczema can be enough to drive a person mad, often leaving them feeling imprisoned indoors. But allergies don’t affect everyone equally, and Ayurveda shows us a few simple principles to help us understand this disparity.
 
Ayurveda relates allergies to the concept of asaatmya, or intolerance of an unfavorable substance (1). Exposure to the substance can happen in a variety of ways: inhalation, ingestion, injection, and topical contact. These exposures cause the immune system to start reacting, forming antibodies which lead to a cascade of events eventually manifesting as the symptoms of allergies: congestion, itchy eyes, wheezing, hives and skin rashes. This involvement of the immune system is related to a disturbance in ojas and can even affect less visible systems such as the gastrointestinal system. The quality and quantity of ojas can be affected by vitiated doshas, leading to an overactive immune response.
 
But why does this happen in some people and not others? As Ayurveda explains it, the agni, or digestive fire, is also affected in those who have allergy manifestations. When the agni becomes suboptimal, it is unable to appropriately process what comes into the system, and the undigested materials become toxic residue, or ama. This ama clogs the channels and disturbs the immune system, affecting its natural intelligence. As the disturbed immune system responds to allergens, by producing histamines, it further clogs the channels, creating more ama. This vicious cycle keeps the person experiencing allergic symptoms, including heaviness, congestion and sinus infections. And if the vitiated doshas, particularly pitta, and ama circulate throughout the system, the person will experience skin manifestations such as hives, urticaria, eczema and rashes. The accumulation of pitta and ama in the respiratory system can cause wheezing and asthma-like symptoms, and can lead to diarrhea, malabsorption, inflammation, and other irritable bowel-type manifestations. Continue reading

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