Spring is such a magical time in the great Northwest. Thanks to our winter and spring rain, we see blossoms unfolding in great abundance this time of year. Unfortunately, for hay fever sufferers, this may bring sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat, and even fatigue.
Our allergy response is determined by our exposure to allergens and our bodies’ reaction to those allergens. Our first goal with decreasing allergy symptoms is to reduce exposure. You may not be willing to move out of town or give away your cat- but there are things you can do to limit your face time with your triggers.
First, it is helpful to identify triggers that you can do something about such as food allergens, dust and animal dander. This can be done in our office with a simple blood test. You can reduce exposure by avoiding known food sensitivities, washing hands regularly and keeping your sleeping environment clean and allergy-free. If pollen, weeds and grasses are your thing, you can reduce exposure by keeping windows shut, running a HEPA filter in your home and cleaning your sinuses with a Neti pot (see treatment below for details).The way our body responds to an allergy exposure is determined by many factors including nutritional status, stress, and current state of the immune system . The immune system mediates how the body will react to a given allergy. With the right foods, herbs and nutrients we can modulate the immune system to not go down the inflammatory path. This does not just reduce allergies, but also total body inflammation which is a common denominator in most chronic disease. People will often notice that an allergen bothers them sometimes, and other times it does not. This is due to the accumulation of allergy exposure or “total allergic load”.
If someone is allergic to cheese, tomatoes, wheat and some grasses- and then sits outside on the fresh cut grass with some yummy pizza- they are in for an allergy attack. This person has hit their “total allergic load” and the result will be an exaggerated inflammatory response. The more combined allergens you are exposed to on a given day, the greater the chance is that you will hit your total allergic load and your body will react. Hitting your allergic load will stress the immune system and reduce its ability to fight infection. This commonly leads to colds and infectious sinusitis. The good news is, as people take better care of themselves, their allergies and rate of infections often come down.
One of the exciting things about being a family doctor and working with people through the years is that I get to observe trends in health over time. One trend I have noticed is that when a patient has been under our care for a little while I hear things like “I guess the pollen count is low this year because my usual horrible allergies are really mild this spring” or “Oh yeah, I did have allergies and chronic sinus stuff the last few years – I haven’t even thought about it in a while”. In these cases, we often were treating a seemingly unrelated symptom, however with a holistic approach, the whole body benefits.
When we look at the body holistically, we often identify patterns that we can treat at the root level. For instance, a patient may present with horrible headaches as her chief complaint, but also suffers from menstrual pain, seasonal allergies and fatigue. On investigation we may find that the headaches are mainly triggered by a food sensitivity and subsequent inflammation in the gut and rest of the body. We will focus on eliminating that food, healing the gut and calming the inflammatory response. The result is a lower total allergic load and reduced inflammation throughout the body. Almost magically we will see resolution of the headaches as well as the seemingly unrelated symptoms (fatigue, PMS and allergies). We see this happen all the time. A patient comes in for one problem and three others are resolved in the process.
So, what can you do to influence your immune system to go down the right path and reduce allergy symptoms?
~Reduce exposure – identify triggers you can do something about to reduce your total load.
~Clean hands, use filters, get allergens out of the bedroom.
~Clean sinuses – “Netti pot” or a sinus cleanser will reduce exposure of an allergen by simply washing it away. Otherwise it can stay trapped in sinuses and continue to activate an allergic response. This is an ancient Indian remedy that does wonders for many people. There is an art to getting it down right. Follow instructions on the box exactly.
~Food – yes, you can eat your way to a better allergy season. These particular foods shine because they are rich in nutrients that will halt inflammation. Here are my favorites:
-ginger, garlic, onions
-turmeric-can drink 1 tsp in tea nightly for a potent anti inflammatory effect
-berries- the more the better
-citrus, kiwi, papaya
-healthy fats- avocados, wild salmon, nuts
-spicy foods- horseradish, cayenne, chilies
-nettles!! Available at some farmers markets or pick-your-own in early spring. Eat lightly steamed (don’t touch them before cooking!!)
-water – shoot for 10 glasses a day to dilute and help clear allergens
~ Relief in a bottle – there are some great products out there that can squelch allergies.
“Allergy Relief”- A special product formulated by our very own doctors. It is a wonderful blend of nutrients that is proving to work very well.
Vitamin C is a simple way to stabilize mast cells which pump out histamine. Take often for all day relief.
Nettles, eyebright, fish oil, quercetin, digestive enzymes (between meals)
Nature Cures’ J.J. Pursell N.D. has a lovely tea blend at the Herb Shop on SE Hawthorne. Nettles and eyebright are a great addition to any hay fever tea.
Acupuncture – can target allergies and help balance the whole body.
Treating allergies is not about taking the right pill, either conventional or naturopathic. It is about addressing the whole body. When we help guide the body away from an inflammatory response and decrease an individual’s total load, we see allergies and other symptoms disappearing. There are many roads to allergy elimination. Let your doc at Nature Cures Clinic help you get on the right path. Happy Spring to you all!