Friday, April 6, 2012


Spring has sprung! Today’s health and beauty buzz is on allergies. This past winter has been the 4th mildest winter on record in the U.S. (I am certainly not complaining). Allergies are worse this year than ever before according to some allergy suffers. Allergy season has begun earlier due to the unseasonably warm weather and trees are producing pollen at a greater rate than usual. Pollen counts have reached a record high.  45 million Americans suffer from allergies each year making it the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. Allergies can develop at any age. Children with one parent who suffers from allergies are 30% likely to develop allergies. If both parents are allergy suffers, then the likelihood is 70%.

Why do we get allergies?

Many different things cause allergies. Allergies occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies certain things such as “pollen” as being dangerous.
Our immune system is composed of white blood cells. Our white blood cells work by identifying threats to the body and then eliminating them. An immune system which is healthy knows not to attack the body and certain things like healthy bacteria and proteins that we get from our food.
Allergic reactions such as in seasonal allergies occur when the white blood cells have identified the pollen as being “dangerous”. The white blood cells release other substances to alert the rest of the body to do what it can to “terminate the invader”. One of these substances is histamine. It is the histamine which floods to the nasal passages that is responsible for the itching, swelling and development of mucus.

Treatment of allergies
Allergies should be treated if severe as non treatment can lead to sinus and inner ear infections as well as worsening symptoms in asthmatics. The trick is to medicate before the symptoms occur.
  1. First course of treatment is over the counter allergy medication obtained at your pharmacy. These antihistamines work by blocking the release of histamines by the white blood cells. These need to be taken on a regular basis as they work better that way. They are best taken at night before bed.  They are not terribly effective once the body’s histamines have already been triggered.  Antihistamines are not localized and go into the blood stream causing side effects such as drowsiness. There are many antihistamines on the market and some work better than others. If you have no luck with one, try a different brand that may work better for you with fewer side effects.
  2. Nasal sprays obtained with a doctor’s script which contain steroids are frequently used to treat seasonal allergies. These steroids go directly into the nasal passages and are localized and not absorbed into the blood stream. They are safe and more effective than antihistamines.
  3. Allergy shots are another option for severe allergy suffers. These are given only once the culprit has been identified by scratch and blood tests performed on you by an allergist. They work by exposing the body to small amounts of the allergen and slowly increasing the dose. The hope is that the body will then begin to ignore it. They are given over the course of several years taking about 3 years to be fully effective. Sometimes allergy shots do not work for all allergies.
Contrary to popular belief, eating honey on a daily basis from a local source does not build up immunity against allergies. This is a myth. There is no such thing as a cure for allergies, except perhaps a “new immune system”. I kid you not. My husband who suffered terribly from seasonal allergies for many years has not been bothered by them since his stem cell transplants and “new immune system!”

Symptoms of allergies- non life threatening
Itchy, swollen and watery eyes are classic allergy symptoms.
Runny nose and congestion of nasal passages and sinuses.
Dry, scratchy throat as well as a sore throat.
Ear pain.
If in doubt as to whether you are suffering from a cold or allergies, there are no fever or chills associated with seasonal allergies.  Allergies also last a lot longer than 7 days.

Symptoms of life threatening allergies
  • Allergies can be extremely serious and should not be taken lightly. Hives (red itchy spots over the body) are often the first sign of allergy. This alone is not indicative of a life threatening allergic reaction.
  • Trouble breathing especially shortness of breath and wheezing.
  • Abdominal pain and vomiting.
  • Sudden and unexplained drop in blood pressure.
Different kinds of allergies

·     The most common allergies are the airborne allergies associated with pollen from trees and grasses.
·     Mold and mildew spores. Mold flourishes in damp, dark and wet places. The spores released into the air are inhaled and can cause an allergic reaction in many people especially asthmatics.
·     Dust and dust mites. Many people are allergic to dust and dust mites. Use a face mask when dusting and vacuuming as well as a vacuum that has a hepa filter. Protective covers for pillows and mattresses may also help.

More serious allergies which may result in death if left untreated are:-
·    Insect bites and stings usually from bees.
·    Food allergies particularly shell fish, peanuts and eggs.
·    Latex allergies- Widely used in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Your doctor/dentist should always check with you before an examination. Many doctors use latex free gloves now as a matter of course.
·    Medications- Many people are allergic to certain antibiotics and other drugs. Make sure you update all your medical records with any allergy information.

People who suffer from life threatening allergies should wear a bracelet to identify the condition as well as having an epi pen within easy reach at all times. Make sure you or your child knows how to use it.

Tips for lessening severity of seasonal allergies
  1. Check the pollen count.
  2. If the count is high, limit outdoor activities.
  3. Pollen counts are higher in the morning so limit outside work to the      afternoons and evenings.
  4. Wear sunglasses.
  5. Keep the windows in your house and car closed.
  6. Install a home hepa filter so your air-conditioned/heated air is cleaner.
  7. Shower immediately you come indoors and wash your hair and clothing so that pollen is not transferred to the sofa and bed.
  8. Wash your bedding frequently and obviously no washing should be dried    outside.
  9. Use a hepa vacuum filter.
  10. Try a humidifier.
  • Butter Bur is said to help relieve itchy eyes and a runny nose without causing drowsiness by decreasing inflammation. Take 1 tablet 2 times a day.
  • There is increasing evidence that vitamin D might reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. 600 IU of vitamin D a day might help.
  • Probiotics can restore gut bacteria to a healthy balance, minimizing overreactions in the immune system that can lead to allergy symptoms. Taking a supplement with 3 to 5 billion CFUs daily could be beneficial.
  • The Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables and nuts have been shown to protect against symptoms as have foods high in vitamin C(citrus, broccoli, kale) and folate(turkey, chicken, lentils,spinach).
  • There are also foods to avoid. Some allergy sufferers also experience" Oral Allergies" which is a tingly itchy feeling on the lips, tongue and throat after eating certain raw foods. It can be uncomfortable. If you are allergic to tree pollen, you maybe sensitive to carrots, cherries, peaches, plums, almonds and walnuts. If you are allergic to ragweed, you might react to melons, bananas, strawberries and cucumbers.
  • Avoid alcohol. The bacteria and yeast it contains produce histamines which can worsen allergy symptoms. 

Wishing you all a healthy, happy and safe Easter.

*Remember to discuss the use of any medication use including vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter drugs with your physician prior to use.

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