The allergy puzzle is not easily solved, but neither is it impossible. By helping the body’s natural immune response to function more efficiently, we may be able to retrain it to respond more appropriately to the benign substances that trigger allergic reactions and discover natural ways to fight allergies.
Beautiful weather, good food, adorable pets, a bouquet of flowers – what do they all have in common? We should say that they make us smile and brighten our day, but for too many, the common denominator is that they make us feel miserable.
Because allergic reactions are not connected to a viral or bacterial illness, our standard methods of treating illness don’t necessarily work. We can’t take a round of antibiotics to treat those itchy eyes or that constant sneezing. Often, that means a constant effort to avoid the offending substance(s), living with the uncomfortable consequences, or addressing it conventionally with less than ideal medicinal treatments.
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: How Allergies Impact Us
The stomach bug feels like nausea and headaches, fatigue and vomiting. A cold feels like a runny nose and sneezing. The flu feels like a fever and fatigue with congestion and sneezing. We tend to self-diagnose our illnesses based on our symptoms.
Actually, our body’s immune system is responsible for the symptoms. Sneezing expels germs from the mucous membranes. Vomiting clears the stomach of offenders. Fevers increase the body temperature beyond what a virus can withstand. Aches and pains of inflammation carry white blood cells to various parts of the body to fight off microbes.
When our bodies feel like they are breaking down, in actuality it’s our bodies working very efficiently – except when the response is directed toward harmless substances.
Sometimes, the body’s “marching orders” get confused, and it decides that, say, pollen is a vicious attack on our health and wellbeing. Or that pet dander is out to get us. When the immune response is confused in this way, it’s considered to be an allergy.
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Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Different Kinds of Allergies
There are many types of allergic responses under the umbrella of “allergies.” Just as the body will react in specific ways to specific viruses or bacteria, allergens create specific responses, as well.
Not everyone will react the same way to generalized allergens, but we can categorize a few types of allergies that can happen:
An allergy that produces a less severe reaction should not be taken any less seriously – any time the body is functioning less efficiently, there is a cause for concern and a reason to address the problem.
There is the potential for a less severe form of each type of allergy called a sensitivity or intolerance. A sensitivity can engage the immune system and produce negative effects in the body, but not as extensively as an allergy.
Reactions to allergies can range from minor irritation to life threatening danger. Minor hives are uncomfortable and unpleasant, but anaphylactic reactions close the airways, create shock, and can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Why Do You Have Allergies?
In the United States, thirty percent of adults and forty percent of children suffer from some kind of allergy. Allergies have become the fifth most common chronic illness in the country – the third most common when we single out children. (1)
The reason for allergies is still comparatively uncertain since the immune system itself is still hidden to some extent in mystery and still needs some study. Genetic strengths or weaknesses aren’t a guarantee of anything, but genetics do seem to have some determination in one’s health, but the environment and lifestyle that a person lives by can affect whether or not those genetic tendencies are carried out. (2)
We do see that childhood is an uncertain time that can impact a person’s health – if allergies are going to develop, this will most likely happen during childhood. An assessment of allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) showed top incidences falling after childhood. (3) While it’s not unheard of to develop allergies later in life, these observances emphasize the importance of helping our children to be healthy from the start.
Avoiding the onset of allergies does not mean avoiding all common-allergen exposures at all times – that may actually increase your risks. This is the theory of the bored immune system – rarely exposed to real threats to “practice” on, so it targets whatever comes around, harmless though it may be – and it’s one of many theories about the cause of allergies. (4)
We all have a tendency to shield our children and ourselves from the pollutants, stress, toxins, and other factors in our environment that inhibit the body’s normal immune function.
On the other hand, just keeping away from allergens is a coping alternative after allergies have developed.
Frequent Allergy Treatments
Allergies are so common that many of us live with the effects and never go in for a diagnosis or medical advice. Once allergies have been identified, we often wonder what to do next.
How many times have you said or heard the phrase, “It’s just allergies”? However, you can only avoid treatment so long before it becomes severe enough that you can no longer cope.
Frequent allergy treatments include:
- Nasal sprays
- Allergy shots
- Remedies, such as bee pollen
Once you know the type of allergy and its severity, you will need to weigh the risks and benefits of each option.
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: The Risk of Conventional Allergy Treatments
The advantage of getting treatment for your allergies is clear – you feel and function better. If you have a severe allergy, many times that is enough to outweigh most potential risks and side effects, but you need to understand the risks and weigh them against hopeful benefits before an informed decision can be made.
While antihistamines are largely safe and widely used, they can cause some severe side effects such as heavy fatigue and impaired thinking. Since the immune response produces histamines, which trigger some of the symptoms of a reaction, antihistamines are often used for topical and respiratory allergic reactions.
Even though second and third generation antihistamines aren’t as strongly connected to the severe side effects, they are still a present concern, since antihistamines are sometimes abused recreationally. (5)
Another over-the-counter treatment that should not be taken lightly is the use of nasal sprays. They can cause “rebound congestion” after treatment is stopped, and even though they don’t necessarily create an addiction, it can feel like an addiction. (6)
When allergies progress to the point where immunotherapy via an allergy shot is required, it’s easy to feel like little else can be done. Still, being aware of the risks involved is important. Your doctor should keep you in the room for 30-40 minutes after the injection to monitor you for a rare but possible anaphylactic reaction. Systemic reactions are possible as well, with long term effects. (7)
Many times we expect risks and potential side effects from artificial or chemical products, but we need to be aware that natural substances should not be completely trusted simply because they are from nature.
Understanding the remedies and alternatives of natural treatments is just as important as understanding conventional therapy. For example, bee pollen supplements have been observed triggering an anaphylactic reaction in a woman who didn’t realize she had that specific allergy. (8)
4 Approaches on How to Beat Allergies Naturally
There are healthy, alternative approaches that may help alleviate allergy problems before we let them progress to the point of needing riskier treatments. These approaches may help diminish symptoms and address the root cause.
The four-tiered approach I recommend for natural ways to fight allergies includes:
- Go to the source
- Improve nutritional support
- Supplement the diet
- Utilize essential oils
We can help the human body to function better as a unit, reducing the overreaction that causes allergic symptoms, by working with the body as a network of systems.
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Go to the source – your gut – by addressing the source of allergic reactions. When having an allergy attack, we only want the runny nose or the itching to stop, but by digging for the cause, we can make more lasting, significant changes.
When dealing with allergies, we need to look at a seemingly unlikely source – the gut. Our bodies are filled with microbes – to the tune of trillions – on surfaces and internally. For the most part, these microbes are our allies, battling infiltrating threats and supporting the immune system. A weakened “army” of microbes, then, can lead to a weakened or inefficient immune system – one more likely to misfire and create allergic reactions. (9)
Supplementing with a good probiotic may be an important key in the treatment of allergies along with implementing healthy dietary habits to protect our intestinal microbial life. According to a review conducted by researchers in Quebec, “…probiotic formulations demonstrated the capability to successfully modulate allergic rhinitis, atopic disorders and food-related allergies.” (10)
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Improve your nutritional support of the immune system by eating allergies away. In addition to protecting the gut with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods and avoiding refined and processed grains and sugars, you can improve your chances against allergies by including some specific dietary recommendations.
Avoidance of the offending foods is certainly necessary for the individual with food allergies. Soothing, healing foods such as cooked vegetables, broth, and fermented foods can help the gut to restore bacterial balance and restore its integrity. Whether or not the allergies are ultimately resolved, foods can be incredibly healing and powerful. A diet of healing foods can benefit health overall and can help to minimize the effects of limited nutrients and gut damage inflicted by food allergies.
Our diet can greatly affect respiratory and nasal allergies. Fruits high in vitamin C, plenty of vegetables, and good sources of omega 3 oils are all important to include in the diet. Limiting refined, processed foods and increasing our intake of nuts, seeds, and healthy oils, will help to maintain that balance. A good balance of omegas helps to reduce inflammation, which is a component of allergies. (11)
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Supplementing the diet with allergy-busters will give our systems a boost. It’s easy to look for natural supplements or remedies that reflect conventional treatments – just change one out for the other! In fact, a nasal spray made with homeopathic capsaicin has gained in popularity and has performed well in studies against nasal congestion. (12)
In the bigger picture, dietary supplements are never intended to be the only beneficial source of nutrition, but they can be an invaluable partner in the quest for wellness and the natural ways to fight allergies.
Beta Glucan is one supplement that may help to alleviate allergy symptoms. It is a little-known substance found as a fiber in the cell walls of yeast, bacteria, and other plants, and has been shown to benefit both the immune and respiratory systems plus it is safe for children as well as adults. Pollen-induced and seasonal allergies have improved with beta glucan supplementation, no doubt thanks to a more efficient immune response. (13, 14)
To address the underlying reason for the allergic reaction by choosing dietary supplements carefully, we can maximize our efforts by avoiding the unnecessary purchase and use of pill after pill to treat symptoms rather than causes.
Natural Ways to Fight Allergies: Utilizing essential oils for allergen-aromatherapy can help diffuse the allergen bomb. Part of the nasal response to allergies and infection is the ciliary beat, and when that function is slowed, discomfort and infection can become recurrent and more unpleasant. An analysis of essential oils found that lavender, eucalyptus, and menthol (found in peppermint) are effective to increase ciliary beat frequency and facilitate a more efficient nasal response. (15)
Using essential oils to relieve allergy symptoms can contribute to symptom relief while we work on relieving the allergies at a foundational level. Essential oils, when used appropriately, are highly effective forms of distribution for certain herbal properties.
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