Ah-choo! Sniffle, sniffle, itch, scratch. Are your allergies and skin symptoms driving you crazy? Are you dreading springtime and the pollens it brings? Or are you sent nearly into respiratory arrest every time you venture near a cat or other animal?
If you are a sufferer of allergies, eczema or asthma, you are not alone. This constellation of symptoms is known as the atopic triad, as they generally occur together. Individuals who experience the atopic syndrome have a predisposition toward developing allergic hypersensitivity reactions to a variety of things. You probably know you are not alone, as your risk of suffering from atopy doubles with each first degree relative (parent, sibling, child) who also experiences one of these symptoms.
Most people who have allergic hypersensitivity find themselves needing multiple medications for symptom control. Some of these common medications are antihistamines, nasal decongestants and steroids.
Antihistamines: Antihistamines block the action of histamine on cellular receptors. These medications are effective for the treatment of allergic symptoms because they decrease blood vessel permeability and thereby decrease the amount of fluids that escape from capillaries into tissues. One of the disadvantages of antihistamines is that they dry up mucosal membranes and predispose infectious conditions. They also affect the immune system in other ways by which the exact mechanism is uncertain, as there is up to a 3.5-fold increase in the risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor) associated with long term anti-histamine use.
Nasal decongestants: Oxymetazoline (found in Afrin and some other brand names) is particularly worthy of mention as it is one of the most dependency promoting over-the-counter medications. This medication causes the blood vessels to constrict and provides temporary relief from symptoms. However, rebound dilation of the vessels occurs, leading to a dependence on such medication to avoid rebound symptoms. Additionally, common additives in oxymetazoline nasal sprays may damage nasal mucosal membranes and worsen symptoms.
Corticosteroids: One of the most common used treatments for a variety of immune-mediated conditions are corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are delivered topically, by inhalation and orally for more severe or systemic conditions. There are many side effects of corticosteroid treatment especially when used long term. Oral corticosteroids increase the risk of osteoporosis, gastritis and gastric reflux, contribute to insulin resistance (promoting diabetes) and central weight gain, and decrease immune response. Topical and inhaled formulations carry less of these risks; however, they often lead to local tissue atrophy and candida overgrowth due to decreased immune surveillance.
Naturopathic approach: One might think that April is just a bit too early to start thinking about allergies, but naturopathic intervention is most effective when initiated prior to the onset of allergy symptoms. Different supplements that decrease allergic reactions include stinging nettle, quercetin and bromelain, as well as probiotics and fish oil. Naturopaths also commonly assess for other things which cause the immune system to be in a hyper-responsive allergic state. This often involves assessment for food sensitivities and healing protocols for the gut. As a large portion of our immune system resides in our gut, keeping it in balance requires addressing what is going on there. By taking the proper actions prior to allergy season, you are much more likely to keep your symptoms in check and find yourself able to enjoy the spring!