Spring has officially sprung, daylight savings is in sight, the flowers are in bloom, and you crack the windows to the smell of freshly mown grass. Spring is a time to come out of our winter hibernation, but is also a time when seasonal allergies can ramp up.

Allergies are extremely common in New Zealand, in particular hay fever or allergic rhinitis, with approximately 20% of Kiwis suffering from symptoms affecting the nose, eyes, throat and ears. 

The warmer months can be a terrible time for those unlucky enough to be affected, and if you are one of them, you will be familiar with all the medications and supplements that can help alleviate symptoms. However, you might be surprised to learn that osteopathic treatment can help with hay fever and allergy symptoms, and for some sufferers, it can reduce the need for over-the-counter remedies.

Allergic reactions begin in the immune system. Your immune system produces substances known as antibodies, and when you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful. In some people, the immune response is too weak, in which case an allergen can overpower the body’s defences. In others, the system is so sensitive that it over-reacts to even harmless substances, and allergies are the result. The resulting reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. 

It’s also worth noting the role of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in your immune function. When faced with stressors (such as high pressure zoom meetings, global pandemics and being locked down in our houses), your sympathetic nervous system is activated, which is the half of your ANS that rules the “fight or flight” response. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are then released, resulting in overdrive of your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. At the same time, the other half of your ANS, the parasympathetic nervous system, is suppressed, as they can’t both be active at the same time. This half is responsible for the “rest and digest” response, so when it is suppressed, your immune function and digestive system take a back seat to what your body perceives to be an immediate threat.

Essentially, your immune system is incredibly sensitive and often needs some support to restore it to optimal function, especially in stressful times. Some proven natural ways to support the “rest and digest” response include good sleep, meditation, healthy food and disconnecting from technology. Osteopathy can also help support your body back into a parasympathetic state through treating the rib cage, diaphragm and neck, thereby improving immune function against colds, viruses and allergies. 

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The following are some key areas your osteopath might address to support immune function and allergies:

The diaphragm – this is the main muscle that helps you breathe, and in the wheezy, sneezy sufferers of hay fever it becomes short and tight, and doesn’t move as easily as it should.

The sinuses – the membranes that line the sinuses, nose and throat are incredibly sensitive, and when irritated by an allergen can become inflamed, swollen and itchy, and will often become blocked with mucus. Some osteopaths use gentle massage and ‘tapping’ techniques to allow greater fluid drainage and relieve the pressure that many people experience.

The neck – your neck is an incredibly important and busy area, full of nerves, arteries, muscles, glands and lymphatic (immune) vessels. Neck tension and stiffness are very common in today’s world, and tight muscles can compress the lymphatic system in your neck and reduce its ability to drain fluids from your head and arms. This could mean runny eyes and blocked noses hang around for longer.

The ribs – these small bones protect some important nerves and vessels which can become overloaded and hyper-sensitive in the presence of allergens, and as a result of their close proximity, the ribs can become stiff and sore. This, coupled with bouts of coughing and sneezing , can be painful. 

Keep your osteopath in mind this season. A session focused on any of these areas might have some positive side-effects that you never even considered!

To book an appointment with one of our osteopaths, click here.

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