Did you know that hay fever symptoms result in 14.1 million primary care visits every year? According to the CDC, 50 million Americans are impacted by allergies, with allergic disease being currently ranked the sixth leading cause of chronic disease. Those at higher risk of developing allergies includes: living in highly populated areas, higher socioeconomic status, family history of allergies, being first born, being fed formula, being born during peak allergy season, exposed to cigarette smoke in the first year of life, did NOT go to daycare at an early age, or received antibiotics at an early age.
Symptoms of allergies include itchy eyes, nose or throat, sneezing, nasal congestion or a runny nose, coughing and postnasal drip, dark circles under the eyes, watery eyes, red-rimmed eyes, or crusting of the eyelids, and in children, a crease in the nose caused by the frequent upward rubbing of the nose (“allergic salute”). There are many secondary health concerns of allergies which include developing asthma, sinus infections, ear infections, or bronchitis. Here are some great tried and true measures you can take to keep your symptoms under control – broken down into four steps: 1) minimize exposures to what is causing the allergic reaction; 2) control histamine levels; 3) enhance/heal mucus membranes; and 4) lower inflammation.
One: Learn what you are allergic to and minimize exposure. We frequently do testing in our office so we can help patients identify what substances – animal dander, pollens, molds, etc. they are reacting to. We also perform food allergy testing. People who eat foods they are reactive to, develop less tolerance to the environmental substances they are allergic to so that the allergic reactions can be more severe and last longer. The bottom line, a triggered immune system (creating inflammation in the body) is not a healthy thing be it from food or environmental sensitivities/allergies.
We also recommend working hard to keep one’s home as allergen free/reduced as able, especially during times of higher pollen counts. This means keeping doors and windows closed, shower and washing your hair before bed to remove pollens from the body, changing one’s clothes after being outside for extended periods of time, and limit outdoor activity, especially on windy days. Using a HEPA air filter is paramount in the house and if dander or dust mites is one of your allergies, using protective coverings on pillows and bedding.
Two: Control histamine levels – naturally or Western medicine style. When an allergen (substance one is allergic to) lands on the mucus membranes lining the nose, a chain reaction starts. Mast cells and basophils (a type of white blood cell), located in the nasal tissue (as well as the lungs, eyelids, gut, ear, and skin) will release histamine and other chemicals that will start the swelling of the mucus membranes and leakage of fluid creating nasal congestion, the tickling/itchy feeling in ears, nose, and throat, asthma, skin rash, etc.
It is important for allergy sufferers to know that antihistamines – Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, etc., do not stop histamine being released. What they do is bind up histamine receptors on cells, blocking them from up-taking the released histamine into the cells, producing the plethora of symptoms above. But, honestly, they can work at controlling symptoms. A substance we encourage our patients to use is quercetin. Quercetin is a natural substance that helps block the release of histamine from basophils and mast cells, thus minimizing allergic bursts of reactivity. Quercetin also has an anti-inflammatory effect of blocking the production of leukotrienes and prostaglandins. Quercetin can be found in green tea, red wine, apples, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and broccoli. However, as a large amount of it is required to produce a positive effect, it is better to take a quercetin supplement. The recommended dose is 600mg – 2000mg taken 3-6 times daily.
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and helps detox histamine. Studies found that taking 2 grams of vitamin C daily lowered blood histamine levels 38 percent in healthy adults in just one week. It is believed that magnesium ascorbate is the best form of C to use as an anti-allergy formula. Magnesium is “nature’s calcium channel-blocker”, and by helping to prevent entry of calcium into mast cells and basophils, may lessen allergic histamine release.
Three: Enhance/heal mucus membranes. Proper hydration is one of the most important things one can do to protect mucus membranes. When hydrated, fluid can flow more easily (runny nose, tearing eyes) and naturally rid the body of irritants. When dehydrated, it is easier for things to stick to the nasal passages and start the allergic response. Use of the neti-pot or nasal lavage device is another useful tool of using salt water/saline to heal irritated and swollen nasal passages as well as remove irritants and allergens breathed in and excess mucus created by them. Humidification, especially when living in dry, arid areas such as Durango, is another important step to take in your home. A natural product that works on the immune system by strengthening mucus membranes as well as stimulates immune cells such as natural killer cells is a species of yeast called Saccharaomyces cerevisiae, the main source of nutritional yeast or Brewer’s yeast.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our gut and help us digest our food, absorb nutrients, push out potentially harmful bacteria, and enhance our immune system. By enhancing the “mucosal barrier” of the gut, research has shown us we are more tolerant, i.e. less reactive, to allergic substances when exposed. Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods such as yogurt or sauerkraut. Doses vary from source to source, and high doses have been shown to be dangerous to people with heart valve disease, but most agree that 1-5 billion active cultures is a good range. Another thing to consider is a good mixture of beneficial bacteria, including L. acidophilus (DDS-1 is the strain most researched), L. rhamnasus, L. plantarum, B. longum, and B. bifidum.
Four: Lower inflammation. There are a plethora of natural substances that help lower inflammation in the body. Quercetin and vitamin C were discussed above. Other natural substances accepted by most health care providers due to the enormous body of research showing their effectiveness in lowering inflammation and improving a healthy immune response are omega 3 oils (cod, salmon, krill, tuna oils). Fish oils have the ability to block prostaglandins contributing to inflammation and the histamine release. Doses that help with allergies are around 2000-4000mg daily, with doses much higher being used for other inflammatory conditions.
When these measures fail to keep allergies at bay. I believe this is an area where integrative medicine can shine. Most allergy sufferers do find great relief with the measures discussed above. Others at the more extreme end may only find relief by seeing an allergist for allergy shots. Many who do not respond to the above tactics are well served by working with a knowledgeable and licensed practitioner. Using herbal and homeopathics prescribed can be helpful. We frequently use intravenous (IV) nutrition/vitamin C or ozone to successfully calm down a depleted or over-reactive immune system. Acupuncture, NAET treatments, acupressure, and biofeedback are also successful modalities. The take home is ̶ there are many ways that have been beneficial to allergy sufferers, so if you are one, don’t be discouraged and seek help if what you’re doing isn’t working for you.
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, anti-aging, women’s health and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.