Allergies are abnormal reactions to everyday substances. They are caused by the immune system's overreaction to histamine, a chemical that the body releases to fight microbial invaders. But in allergies, the invaders are not viruses or bacteria. They are harmless substances: pollens, dust, mould spores or harmless microscopic bugs called dust mites that live in carpets, clothing and bedding.
Causes of Allergies
An allergy is caused when the triggering substance, or allergen, comes into contact with the individual. Then, substances called IgEs overwhelm the nasal passage, and millions and billions of white blood cells and eosinophils enter, and the body releases histamine, prostaglandins, and leukotrines.
While the body’s immune system reaction to allergies is well understood within the scientific community, it is still a mystery as to why certain individuals have the reactions they do. While there are some who think that allergies are caused by the body’s immune system reaction to the stresses of everyday modern life, this conflicts with the fact that even Native Americans suffered from allergies. Natives of the Willamette Valley near Eugene, Oregon, have long called the area “The Valley of Fever”, due to the grasses in the regions which cause allergic reaction.
Types of Allergies
Hay fever is one of the most common allergies, and is caused by pollen in the air. Other common allergies include reactions to milk, bee stings, pet dander, dust mites, and mold.
Prevention of Allergies
It has been found that between 50 and 75 percent of individuals who remove milk from their diet experience a reduction in allergies. One reason that removal of milk from the diet tends to be an effective treatment for allergies is that milk is an allergen itself. Because allergies tend to “piggyback” on one another, removal of one is a good treatment for the others. Additionally, even if milk doesn’t cause an allergic reaction in an individual, it may enable pollen or mold to cause such a reaction. While removing pollen or mold from one’s surroundings would also be a good treatment, it is much more difficult to do than removing milk from one’s diet.
It should be noted that all types of cow’s milk are equally allergenic, as the allergen in milk is the skim, not the fat of the milk. However, aged cheeses often do not present as much of a problem because the bacteria has had a chance to eat much of the allergenic proteins.
Signs & Symptoms of Allergies
Respiratory allergies may cause wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma, and bronchitis. Other symptoms caused by allergies include, but are not limited to the following: swelling, nose drip, itching, hives, heart pounding, flushing, pallor, tingling, redness or blueness in the hands, faintness, dry mouth, burping, flatulence, bloating, canker sores, stinging tongue, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, rectal itching, and indigestion. If untreated, allergies may cause more serious consequences.
How The Condition is Diagnosed
Allergies are usually diagnosed after an individual exhibits certain symptoms after coming into contact with an allergen. Often, doctors will have individuals cut substances out of their diet one by one to attempt to diagnose the specific food allergy being suffered by an individual. If conditions persist, blood tests may also be used to diagnose a specific allergy.
Treatments of Allergies
Allergies are generally treated with antihistamines, decongestants (though these can cause insomnia and raise blood pressure), nasal steroids, and allergy shots (allergic desensitization). Often, however, the easiest and most effective treatment of allergies is for an individual to stop drinking or otherwise consuming milk. To replace the potential loss of calcium from the diet, individuals should take calcium supplements when cutting out milk. Other options are calcium enriched orange juice and soy milk. Soy and rice milk are especially helpful when replacing cow’s milk in cereal. Individuals should also make sure that they get plenty of Vitamin C and bioflavonoids (such as quercetin)
One alternative treatment for allergies is called Pe Min Kan Wan, a Chinese herbal remedy. Available at Chinese herbal stores and other natural and health food stores, the remedy is a mix of flowers and herbs, and should be taken according to the dosage instructions. Individuals should be aware that contamination of the remedy by pesticides and heavy metals is possible. Additionally, many believe that custom remedies made by a Chinese herbologist are more effective. Finally, products with ephedra (Ma Huang), marketed as Chinese decongestants, should not be taken on a regular basis because of long-term side effects that may lead to death.
Natural antihistamines found in the extracts of stinging nettles or livers (called Antronex) have been found to help some individuals deal with allergies. Antronex should be taken in tablet form one to three times per day, while stinging nettles extract should be taken in 300mg doses twice per day. Both treatments are generally thought to be safe. Garlic (Allium Sativum) and onion (A. cepa) are good sources of the bioflavonoid quercetin, and can help prevent inflammation from allergies. Gingko (Gingko biloba) can help prevent the triggering of allergies. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may be massaged into the skin to treat allergies that cause hives and itching. Chamomile essential oils and creams may be purchased at natural food stores. It should be noted, however, that persons suffering from hay fever may have a further allergic reaction to chamomile, as it is a part of the ragwort family.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), a common treatment for migraine headaches, may also help relieve allergy symptoms. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid feverfew because it passes through the system to the child’s milk. Individuals who use feverfew for an extended amount of time may experience a sedative effect. Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) helps to clear the sinuses. Horseradish is common in preparation of many Japanese foods, where it is called Wasabi.
Other possible alternative treatments include acupuncture (though this is more expensive than most other treatments), which may help alleviate allergy symptoms months or even years after treatment is stopped. By comparison, most other alternative treatments need to be used constantly or their rejuvenating effects will wear off in short order. Twenty to fifty acupuncture sessions may be necessary to achieve the desired effects.
Other courses of treatment include a holistic approach that starts with identification of allergens, elimination of exposure, and support of the adrenaline and immune systems, along with detoxification. When done correctly, this approach can be highly effective, though it may take a long time and the cost of supplements may be fairly expensive.
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- Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
- Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)
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