Allergies, which are also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, are a common problem afflicting millions of Americans, particularly in the spring, summer, and fall. Common symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, watery/itchy eyes, itchy nose or throat, and sinus symptoms including headache and pressure behind the eyes.
The primary trigger for this kind of allergic reaction is airborne allergens such as pollen, animal dander, mold, dust, and dust mites. For those that have symptoms mostly in the spring, the usual trigger is tree pollen. Symptoms in the summer usually mean a grass pollen allergy, and fall symptoms are usually ragweed or other weed pollen. Dust, dust mites, mold, and animal dander most often cause year-round symptoms.
Another very common trigger for these allergic symptoms is food allergies. While immediate allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing after eating a peanut or strawberry is well understood by patients and physicians alike, most people, including even allergists, are unaware of the connection between food allergies and hay fever.
There is a concept in allergies known as “Total allergic load” which says that the body reacts to the sum of all its allergic exposures, and when a certain threshold is reached, the allergic reaction occurs. Both airborne and food allergens can add to this total load, and in some people toxic/chemical exposures as well. In many people, the airborne allergens are not enough to trigger the allergic reaction by themselves, but when the food allergens are added to the allergic load the reaction occurs. For this reason, identifying and eliminating food allergies can be a very effective strategy for many people with hay fever.
Reducing one’s exposure to airborne allergic triggers can likewise be very helpful in alleviating hay fever symptoms. Different methods are required for different allergens, however. For dust mites, putting covers on bed pillows, mattresses, and comforters and treating or removing carpets can be very effective. For pollen, running the air conditioner or a HEPA filter can be effective. For mold, the source of the moisture leading to mold growth should be identified and corrected. For animal dander, keeping the animal out of the bedroom and running a HEPA filter can be effective.
Knowing what one’s allergies are is crucial to effective hay fever treatment. In the case of airborne allergies, skin scratch tests done by an allergist or blood testing are equally effective. In the case of food allergies, however, skin scratch testing is not an accurate method to diagnose the type of allergic reaction that causes hay fever. Elimination/challenge diets or blood testing for IgG or IgA antibodies can be very useful, on the other hand. Blood food allergy tests are now available that accurately test for 100 or more foods and are covered by most insurance plans.
Unfortunately I have not seen any test that can accurately test for reactions to chemicals/toxins. Wood smoke, perfumes, cleaning agents, and solvents are chemicals that many people react to. If you have a history of exposure to chemical toxins or know that you develop a headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, runny nose, or other symptoms upon exposure to these or other toxins, reducing exposure to all toxins may be beneficial.
When reducing allergic and chemical exposures don’t adequately resolve hay fever symptoms, a variety of natural medicines can be safe and effective. In contrast to anti-histamines such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, these herbal medicines do not cause drowsiness, nor do they cause the headaches or weight gain that can occur with Claritin. These herbal and nutritional medicines include:
- Bioflavonoids such as bromelain, quercetin, hesperidin, and rutin
- Green tea
- Freeze dried nettles
- Pancreatic enzymes
My favorite from the above list is the bioflavonoids, for which I use a product called Aller-C. Response to these natural medicines, however, is highly individualized, and any given person may respond better to one or the other.
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To be tested for food or airborne allergies and for help with elimination diets or other treatments for allergies, please make a selection below.
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