It’s that time of year when patients waltz through the doors of my office, looking for natural alternatives for their over-the-counter (OTC) medicine cabinet staples – the most popular being Claritin, Allegra, Aerius, Reactine (oral antihistamines), Visine (antihistamine eye drops) and Sudafed (decongestant).
Not sure you suffer from allergies? Typical symptoms and signs can include an itchy nose, eyes, or mouth, sneezing, tearing of eyes, runny nose (post-nasal drip or rhinorrhea), swollen nasal cavities (rhinitis) and nasal and sinus congestion (rhinosinusitis). You may also get frontal headaches as a result of a sinus obstruction. If you also suffer from asthma, your symptoms may also include coughing and wheezing. Parents of little ones may also commonly report the chronic nasal obstruction in their child reliably precedes the complaints of a chronic inner ear infection (otitis media).
Seasonal allergens may include tree pollen (late-April through May), grasses and weeds (late-May through mid-July) and weed pollen (late-August through late-Fall). Perennial allergies affect sufferers year-round and are typically triggered by indoor allergens like dust mites, animal fur and dander, mould, feathers and/or cockroaches. Environmental exposure to pollution, perfume, aerosol sprays, cold air, humidity and second-hand cigarette smoke can further exacerbate seasonal and perennial allergies.
Interestingly, the allergies you experience are caused by a mishap or hypersensitivity of your immune system. While a properly functioning immune system is able to distinguish a true foreign invader from that of a “harmless” or innocuous substance, a person with a hypersensitive immune system will respond to the allergen with furry, initiate an immunological response when it comes in contact with IgE antibodies, and causes immune cells to release histamine, causing blood vessel dilation and smooth muscle contraction to varying degrees.
Several natural therapies that can block the allergic response or can target inappropriate inflammation at the root of allergic symptoms include:
Quercetin, a widely consumed flavonoid in the diet, and a potent inhibitor of allergic and inflammatory responses, which inhibits histamine release.
Butterbur, (latin name, Petasites hybridus) a shrub found in North America, Europe and Asia. Its antihistamine effect is comparable to Cetirizine, a popular antihistamine for seasonal allergic rhinitis minus unwanted sedative effects. It is also able improve lung ventilation and decrease bronchial reactivity.
Rosemary, whose medicinal constituent is rosmarinic acid, is able to inhibit alternate pathways of inflammation via the complement system. It is able to block cytokines IL-4 and IL-5 (protein messengers).
In addition to some of the above strategies, one of my natural favourites is the use of a netipot with warm saline water diluted with some of my favourite immunomodulating herbs, as guided by my patient’s concerns.
While OTC medications may be used to suppress unwanted spring time symptoms, they do not treat the underlying cause of allergies. Get a head-start on building your allergy strategy by asking yourself the following questions prior to your visit with your Naturopathic Doctor or other healthcare provider: What symptoms do I typically experience? When do my symptoms typically occur? Are my symptoms triggered while indoors or while outdoors? Before starting any course of treatment, particularly if you have moderate to severe allergies, it is important for you to begin treatment supervised by a regulated healthcare provider to ensure your safety.
Your Naturopathic Doctor can assist you in developing a plan that is most appropriate for you and may include management techniques, provide you with practical recommendations you can incorporate to alleviate and remove/avoid known triggers, as well as the suitability of sublingual immunotherapy to help desensitize your immune system to specific allergens.