Natural Allergy Treatments Options
The choices for allergy treatment go well beyond the conventional over-the-counter medications sold at a local pharmacy. Recently, increased attention has gone toward nutritional supplements, various forms of desensitization, homeopathic remedies and herbal medicine. The following article will describe several of these options and explain the stages in the allergic reaction that each treatment acts upon. This will be easier to understand if you have read the first part of this series: Allergy Basics - The Overreaction Explained. The following treatment options focus on the Type I Hypersensitivity reaction described in that article.
Stopping the Histamine and Inflammation
Antihistamines - When the histamine is released from the mast cell after exposure to an allergen, it then generates an inflammatory response (swelling, release of fluid) in the tissue where the exposure occurred (nose, mouth or skin). An antihistamine is a medication that prevents the histamine from attaching to the cell and therefore prevents the inflammatory response that leads to allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, an itchy and runny nose, fatigue, etc. Antihistamines are drugs that are sold without a prescription at your local pharmacy and are often present in combination with decongestants and pain relievers, so be mindful of interactions if you are taking other medication. Side effects of antihistamines may include fatigue, confusion, headaches and abdominal pain. Antihistamines are not used as part of a natural allergy treatment plan, but are described here to provide a comparison to the following natural treatment options.
Quercetin – This naturally occurring bioflavonoid is a plant-derived compound that counters allergic reactions by stabilizing mast cells. This stabilization prevents the release of histamine and therefore prevents the subsequent inflammation and symptoms associated with the exposure. It works well on its own and its effectiveness is enhanced in combination with other bioflavonoids, Vitamin C and bromelain. Quercetin is also a natural antioxidant that helps to clean up free radicals that cause cell damage which can lead to cancer. It is found in apples, citrus, parsley, tomatoes, berries, broccoli and onions, but typically will need to be taken in supplement form to get levels high enough to prevent allergy symptoms.
Omega -3 oils – These anti-inflammatory essential fats are proving to be beneficial for many conditions, and allergies are no exception. A German study published in the journal Allergy, found that those participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who did not regularly eat these foods. Omega-3s can be found in cold water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil.
Herbal Medicine – There are several herbs that also can help to stop the inflammatory and allergic response. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) inhibits the body's ability to produce histamine. Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is also a natural alternative to antihistamines and may lower levels of some other chemicals involved in the allergic response. However, use caution if you have a ragweed allergy, since this plant is a relative it may aggravate symptoms in some people.
Evidence-Based Desensitization Options
Allergy shots – This involves being injected with a tiny amount of the allergen. Over time, the amount of allergen in each shot is increased and the body builds up a tolerance to it so that if the person being desensitized encounters more of the allergen as they go about their daily activities, their body will not react as severely and their allergy symptoms will be reduced. In the beginning, allergy shots are given once or twice each week. This allows the allergy doctor to gradually increase the amount of allergen in each shot. This build-up phase usually lasts three to six months. When the doctor determines that the dose is high enough, the maintenance phase begins and typically lasts several years. During this time, the frequency of shots may be reduced to every two to four weeks. (Source: allergycanada.com) This treatment requires a referral to an allergy specialist, and in the Vernon area, requires regular trips to Kelowna to get the shots. This is might not an option for everyone with allergies due to the limited availability of the doctors that can provide this service, as well as the time commitment for appointments that includes time off work, time away from home and travel time.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) – This therapy is proving to be a more gentle and convenient, yet still effective alternative to allergy shots. Continued exposure to small doses of the allergen over time teaches the body that the allergen is not a dangerous intruder requiring a battle, but a harmless substance that the immune system can ignore. The allergen is diluted, beginning at 1:1000 and later increased to 1:100 strength. The drop is held under the tongue for two minutes and then swallowed. The therapy is given as a single drop under the tongue 2-3 times per day. There are two treatment regimen options: pre-seasonal treatment requires a quick build-up of antigen 30-60 days prior to and throughout the offending allergy season, or co-seasonal treatment, which is year round treatment to give lasting desensitization. As with all allergy immunotherapy, lasting results requires 3-5 years of treatment. Research shows that committing to the full therapy can result in permanent symptom relief. Imagine, no more allergies! There are over 60 clinical trials proving efficacy and SLIT has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and the Cochrane Collaboration. SLIT has been proven to be safe, effective and well tolerated. SLIT is available by prescription only and because it has a DIN (drug identification number), the cost of the drops are covered by most medical plans. Cost benefit analysis has shown that SLIT can cut down on medication costs and actually save money.
Symptom Relief and Holistic Care
Homeopathic Medicine – Homeopathy is a great tool that can provide symptom relief for many people. I often use this in my practice in combination formulas to provide relief from seasonal or occasional symptoms, like when a person with a cat allergy has the occasional visit to a cat owner's home. It can also be given in single remedy form to restore the body back into a healthy balance. In this form, it is given as part of a holistic care program and the rest of the patient's health concerns are also taken into account in the remedy selection.
A Personalized Approach to Natural Treatment
In our clinic we use a combination of the natural treatment options in a treatment plan that is tailored to each person's own situation. Quercetin, nutritional support, homeopathics and SLIT therapy may be used individually or in combination in a natural treatment plan that is guided by the patients' health history, symptom picture and allergy test results. Every person is unique and deserves the best care to achieve true health.
Consult with your naturopathic doctor before beginning any supplement or treatment program to ensure there are no interactions with medications or existing health conditions that may compromise efficacy or your health