The Earth is waking up and flowers are beginning to bloom. While the surge of activity makes me giddy for warmer sunny days, it also brings along pollen which means allergies for many. How do you face allergy season feeling prepared instead of apprehensive?
What are Allergies Really?
Allergies are caused by an imbalanced immune system. Basically, your immune system is trying to protect you from something it has identified as life-threatening. Histamine causes the symptoms of allergies. This molecule creates itching, swelling, and increased mucosal permeability – runny eyes and nose. In severe cases, the reaction can be so strong that anaphylaxis can occur – this is a life-threatening situation which necessitates carrying an EpiPen.
Where do Allergies Come From?
Allergies are often inherited, but they also develop on their own. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of how one acquires a new allergy, but the hygiene hypothesis has some theories for us including an inverse correlation between infections and the occurrence of allergies. The more often you are exposed to germs as a child, the fewer allergies you will develop. This theory also ties in with autoimmune disease development. Many recommend keeping pets in your home to help reduce the risk of children developing allergies.
Conventional Allergy Treatments:
Conventional allergy treatments focus on blocking histamine from causing its effects. Another area of focus can be desensitizing the immune system by presenting the substances your body is reacting to in a different way this includes allergy shots, as well as Sublingual Immunotherapy, also know as SLIT.
First generation –
These can treat nausea and can cause drowsiness. They include Benedryl (diphenhydramine), Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), Doxylamine (found in Tylenol Cold and Nyquil), and a few others.
Second generation –
These cause less drowsiness and don’t help with nausea. They include Allegra (Fexofenadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and Claritin (Loratadine).
Because treatment is often incomplete, those who have suffered from life-long allergies may combine several medications. This isn’t the best route to take. On one hand, it can result in overmedication, for another, all of the histamine blockers listed above have their limits. They only block one of the four known histamine receptors (H1). This means that you still have copious amounts of histamine circulating through your system binding to H2, H3, and H4 receptors.
- H2 receptors are found in the stomach and increase stomach acid secretion. They are also found in the uterus, heart, and blood vessels where they encourage the relaxation of these muscles. Finally, they are found in our white blood cells.
- H3 receptors reduce the amount of histamine that is produced.
- H4 receptors regulate how many white blood cells our body produces.
These have a relatively high success rate (~70%) when taken appropriately. The problem here is the need for frequent shots. The build-up period consists of 1-2x weekly for 28 doses (14 – 28 weeks). Then the maintenance period consists of shots every 2-4 weeks for 3-5 years. Many have a hard time sticking to this schedule let alone affording all of the copays and other costs associated.
SLIT is administered at home after an in-office assessment. Unfortunately, insurance often doesn’t cover this treatment. Additionally, the other downfalls here are unknown effectiveness and limited FDA approved treatments. Currently, only ragweed and grass pollen treatments are available.
Alternative Allergy Treatments?
Alternative treatments aim to improve your overall immune system function.
First, we want to identify and eliminate foods that are triggering immune responses. The best way to do this is through an elimination and rechallenge diet. Food allergy testing is questionable in how well it works. By reducing the overall burden on your immune system, we can help to rebalance it.
Are you exposing yourself to allergens when there are ways to avoid them? Do you have seasonal allergies but fail to rinse your nasal passages or use an eyewash? Taking the time to eliminate or remove allergens can go a long way. The other big area we can focus on with lifestyle is stress management. Whenever we are experiencing more stress, our immune function is going to be out of balance.
Probiotics come up with any reading about the hygiene hypothesis. I recommend people find the right probiotic for them. Then, start taking it 1-2 months prior to their allergy season and continue through.
Natural histamine blockers –
Freeze-dried or tinctured stinging nettle is my favorite natural histamine blocker. Want to up your natural histamine blocking, add in quercetin. Eclectic Institute carries my favorite version.
Breaking down circulating histamine –
The best supplement for this is simple, easy to find, and inexpensive Vitamin C. Take a dose that doesn’t give you loose stools. I recommend starting at 500mg and building up to 2000mg daily.
Homeopathic drops –
These drops contain low doses of allergic substances similar to SLIT therapy. While not FDA approved, many have seen noticeable results. Despite the lack of research investigating these options, their low cost and low risk of side effect make them appealing. One company patients have seen success within this office is Allergena.
As you can see, there are many different ways to approach the treatment of allergies, and a combined approach may be best for you. If you live with allergies and see options for treatment above that you haven’t used, why not try something new?
As always, if you would like my assistance in your journey towards optimal health, I’m here for you.
To our health!