One of the best things about being a doctor is being able to help people after hours, not just at the center. A couple months ago, an opportunity to do that came up during one of my speaking engagements. I was at a local health food store, giving a talk on the benefits of organic food, when a young woman in the audience began coughing uncontrollably. After a minute or two, she left the room, still coughing so hard she could barely catch her breath. I was concerned about her, but she returned in a few minutes. When the presentation was over, she introduced herself.
Her name was Beth, and she apologized for interrupting my talk. She explained that she had asthma and had to use her inhaler. She told me she was worried about losing her job because seasonal allergies were aggravating her asthma. Things were so bad that she’d already used all her sick days for the year. “And it’s only July!” she told me, on the verge of tears. “If I get fired, I’ll lose my health insurance and that would be a disaster!”
As Beth explained all the things she was doing to get her asthma under control, my heart went out to her. She was following the conventional medical recommendations — steroid inhaler and antihistamines — yet her symptoms were getting worse.
We decided that even though she couldn’t afford allergy testing right now, we could develop a new treatment plan. The following week, when Beth came in to the office, I suggested that she keep her inhaler for emergencies but stop taking the allergy medications. At the same time, I urged her to give up dairy products and recommended a few specific supplements, as well as an air purifier to reduce the amount of pollen and other allergens in her environment.
Three weeks later, Beth came in for a follow-up visit, and I almost didn’t recognize her. Instead of the pale young woman with downcast eyes, she was beaming! “I lost eleven pounds in three weeks!” she said.
“That’s great, but what about the asthma?”
“What asthma?” she joked. “I feel like a different person. I still carry the inhaler, but I’ve only used it once in three weeks. I have so much more energy now. I wish I had come to see you years ago!”
Millions of Americans suffer through seasonal misery with symptoms similar to those of the common cold — teary or itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue, mood swings — that drag on for weeks, months or even most of the year.
Although the symptoms of colds and hay fever are similar, the causes are distinctly different. Colds occur when we come in contact with rhinoviruses; allergies (sometimes called hay fever) are simply an attempt by the body to deal with common elements — pollens, mold, dust mites, dander or other substances — that it mistakenly sees as dangerous foreign invaders. For some people, these materials cause specialized “mast” cells in the eyes and nasal passages to release histamines. The histamines are supposed to fight off the foreign substances, but they actually inflame and irritate mucous membranes, causing seasonal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, in medical terms.
High Price of Relief
Billions of dollars are spent each year on over-the-counter and prescription medications, allergy shots, doctors’ visits and other measures to obtain relief. Unfortunately, traditional medicine can only offer temporary solutions, and even those have drawbacks. Over-the-counter antihistamines, for example, may cause drowsiness, irregular heartbeat, headache, upset stomach and other unwanted side effects.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a halt to sales of approximately 500 prescription drugs — not over-the-counter or alternative remedies — because they had not been proven safe or effective.
One problem cited by the FDA was that products labeled as “timed-release” were actually delivering the entire dose in only 30 minutes instead of over a span of 8 to 12 hours. Another issue is that some products may contain a “risky combination of ingredients.” The firms manufacturing the questionable products had until October of this year to stop shipping the items. That means some may still be available, so please check with your pharmacist or physician to find out if any cold or allergy remedy you were prescribed is on the FDA’s list.
So what’s an allergy sufferer supposed to do? Here’s my take on the situation: seasonal allergies are best tamed by treating the source of the problem, rather than trying to suppress symptoms with pharmaceuticals.
Many allergy sufferers find that by strengthening their immune systems with quality vitamins, minerals and herbs, they are less vulnerable to allergies. (See Newport Natural Health Letter’s October 12, 2011 issue for suggestions on building up your immune system.) Of course, a diet of whole foods, moderate daily exercise and adequate rest are essential to a healthy immune system, as is finding an effective way to deal with stress.
Searching for Symptom Relief
It can take time to restore your immune system, especially if your lifestyle has been less than healthy recently. In the meantime, there are a number of natural options for relieving symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Help from Mother Nature
For centuries, herbs have been used to provide relief from asthma, coughs and allergies. Butterbur is a good example. Clinical trials show that butterbur not only has a dramatic effect on allergies and asthma, improving symptoms in 90 percent of patients with minimal side effects, but it also was as effective as two leading allergy drugs (Zyrtec® and Allegra®). Other natural substances to consider include:
- Rosmarinic acid, an extract of the herb rosemary, has demonstrated in repeated studies that it quells histamine production. It is sometimes mixed with perilla leaf extract, which enhances its anti-allergy performance.
- Quercetin, a compound found in many fruits and vegetables, particularly onions, performs as well as pharmaceutical drugs in clinical trials.
- An enzyme from pineapple, bromelain has anti-inflammatory abilities that make it another good choice for treating seasonal allergies.
- Extracts of stinging nettle have been used to treat allergies since ancient times. Sometimes natural remedies like these are packaged in combination with other anti-allergy substances, such as Vitamin C, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), goldenseal or yarrow, to name only a few. Follow the dosage directions on the product you select.
Harness the Anti-Allergy Power of Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a fascinating branch of medicine that involves micro-doses of substances to treat specific symptoms. Widely used for more than 200 years, homeopathic remedies are safe, reliable and easy to use. I particularly like the Boiron line of products, but there are other suppliers that are also excellent. Homeopathic remedies are packaged according to the symptoms each one is designed to treat, i.e., runny nose, itchy eyes, cough and so on, making it very simple to choose one that’s right for your situation.
Minimizing Exposure to Offending Substances
Don’t do away with all three food groups at the same time, though. Instead, try four or five days without dairy, for example. If symptoms improve, then come back when you resume eating or drinking dairy products, you may want to avoid them during allergy season. The same is true for wheat. Red meat, however, increases levels of arachidonic acid, a substance related to certain inflammation-producing elements. If you can avoid red meat for a few months, you might have fewer allergy symptoms as a result.
It’s also helpful to minimize contact with environmental allergens. For example, you can reduce exposure to two very common allergens — pollen and dust mites — quickly and easily. Look for bedding products specifically made to control dust mites, like mattress and pillow covers.
For pollen control, I recommend a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) quality air filtration device, something we’ll look at in more detail in future issues. Another excellent way to clean indoor air is with green plants. Research done by NASA scientists found that plants serve as “living air filters.” Purchase plants big enough for at least six-inch containers. Use one plant for every 100-to-120 square feet of space.
Don’t resign yourself to living with the discomfort caused by seasonal allergies. There is a wealth of remedies available for easing the symptoms and, once that happens, you’ll actually welcome fall again.