I have had lifetime IgE mediated allergies to pretty much any non-food item that I get tested for. I was first skin prick tested at age four, and then again at age 21. Trees, grasses, weeds, dander, dust, molds… all of it makes me miserable. Lyme has increased the severity of my allergies as well due to the impact on my immune system. Once again, this is one of those areas where my situation is severe enough that natural medicine can help, but it alone is not enough.
The best way to think about allergies is using a glass of water. Pretend that glass is your immune system. If you are someone who is genetically prone to allergies as I am, our glass is always half-full. If you live with pets whom you are allergic to and/or aren’t diligent about dusting, add some more water to the glass. Then add in a dose of seasonal pollen, and your cup will begin overflowing, as will your sinuses. Austin is a particularly miserable place for allergens as we don’t have a single month all year where something isn’t high in the counts.
So what can be done aside from OTC and prescription allergy medicines and nasal sprays? There are quite a few other things to try that fall under the categories of Western medicine, natural options, lifestyle changes and adaptions, and dietary changes.
I've found that most over the counter allergy medicines don't have enough oomph in them for me. Claritin worked for a while, but then stopped. Benedryl works well for me and doesn't make me drowsy, but it's not very long lasting. I have switched to long acting prescription medications. I'm on an older prescription medicine that has a generic and which seems to work quite well for my body.
Many years ago I did allergy shots; they too were incredibly helpful until my immune system went completely wonky. Then they made things much worse, probably because of preservatives. It is possible to get preservative free allergy shots if you work with an allergist who is aware of chemical sensitivities (which unfortunately, is not most of them). Allergy shots take a while to kick in so they don't provide immediate relief.
There are various herbal compounds that can help. Many of them contain nettles which, ironically, I am allergic to. Most of my practitioners recommend D-Hist. This supplement requires that one does a higher loading dose for several weeks and then drops down to a regular daily dosage which may then need to be increased again during times of seasonal attack.
Another herbal remedy I have successfully used is Bi Yan Pian which is for the lung meridian and helps with allergies and asthma. They are very tiny, easy to swallow pills, and they helped my oak induced asthma quite a bit until I started reacting to them. Check with your acupuncturist or Chinese medical practitioner before taking them, though.
Body work can help many with allergies, especially acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments. Unfortunately, they don’t give me much relief.
The Allergena homeopathic drops that are available locally at People's and Whole Foods are amazing. They work in the same mechanism as allergy shots. They helped me greatly for a while, but my immune system also freaked out about those eventually. These would be easy to give a young child with a health care provider’s supervision and approval. Because of how they work with the immune system, it is recommended you begin these before seasonal allergies get bad. That means if you have trouble with cedar fever, now is the time to start the drops before the pollen begins in about six weeks.
One group of local chiropractors will make an energetic homeopathic for allergens. They muscle test using local allergens to figure out what you are allergic to and then create the homeopathic. Then, you take several drops of the homeopathic daily. This helped so much when it was working. Then it just flat out stopped working as my immune system figured out how to defeat it, but for the year of relief I got, it was really helpful.
if your allergies suddenly become much worse, you may want to talk to your alternative health care provider about adrenal fatigue. Extreme amounts of emotional or physical stress put a great deal of pressure on the adrenal glands which in turn can make allergies worse. Lyme has done this to my body as well.
I know many who swear by lavender essential oil for allergy, but this is not something I have experienced success with.
Neti pots are popular with many people who have allergies. They allow one to use salt water to rinse out the sinuses. Getting the right angle is crucial to making sure you don't choke on the solution, but once you figure it out, the process is really easy and can be quite soothing. Keeping eye contact with yourself in the mirror is part of what helps get the angle correct. I recommend NOT using tap water not because of the very rare risk of bacteria that can kill you but because the chlorine in the water can be very irritating to the nasal passages in someone who is sensitive. Unfortunately, I'm one of the people who finds that using a neti pot makes things worse for me in the long run: I hypothesize that the water in my sinuses actually promotes fungal growth which creates additional pain and misery. As a result, I've given up on using one. Neti pots are available at Whole Foods and People's Pharmacy locally as well as at many other health stores and online.
Lifestyle Adaptions and Changes
For some people, including me, spontaneous nosebleeds are a side effect of allergies. It’s not a lot of fun to wake up in the middle of the night with blood dripping out of your nose. Mine are always caused by mold, but for others, different allergens can be the culprit. Some people find that using a humidifier helps reduce their nosebleeds. If you take this approach, be sure that you are cleaning the humidifier frequently and well so that it doesn't contribute to the mold and allergy problems.
When it comes to dust, it’s a neverending battle. Dust allergies are pretty common amongst those with allergies and asthma. Vacuuming well with a high powered vacuum should happen weekly in any area with carpeting in order to minimize dust. Getting rid of the carpet is best in the long run if you own your home.
Line drying laundry is actually not good for those with allergies because it means all your linens and clothes are picking up more pollen. Use a dryer with heat to kill the dust mites. Bed linens need to be washed weekly if you have dust allergies. If I don't wash my linens weekly, I pay for it. At my worst of my illness, I had to wash the linens every 3-4 days. Any stuffed animals that a child with allergies sleeps with also need to be washed on a regular basis. The dust covers that you can get for pillowcases and mattresses really do help, too. I avoid the vinyl ones because they off-gas some nasty chemicals which is not good for the immune system or the body in general.
I also find it necessary to wash my hair any time I’ve been outside to minimize pollen on my body and allergic reactions. Opening the windows, even on gorgeous days, is unfortunately not an option for me as it just makes my allergies much worse.
I am allergic to pet dander. I love cats, but I cannot be around them without being miserable within 30 minutes even on antihistimines. I’d love to have a cat as a pet, but as I’ve told my kids, if we get a cat, we’d have to get rid of me. I am also allergic to dogs, but I can tolerate some breeds better than others. I had beagles and beagle mixes all my life as they are one breed I do better with; long-haired dogs like golden retrievers are miserable for me. If you have pets and someone in the household is allergic to them, the pets should stay out of the bedroom of the allergic person. This can be accomplished in several ways. We put a baby gate up in our bedroom door to keep the dogs out but to allow us to keep the door open at night; we had to get a taller baby gate after our one beagle rapidly demonstrated his hurdling ability. If you have cats, a screen door on the bedroom door can help keep them out.
Higher end HEPA filters such as those made by Austin Air and AllerAir can help with dust and pollen. Some of the lower end brands have formaldehyde in the filters which doesn't help with allergies especially in the chemically sensitive. However, at my worst, I was still reacting to even the high end brand filters.
Going completely fragrance free can reduce the stress on the immune system and help decrease the impact of allergies, asthma and eczema. Synthetic fragrances can really mess with the lungs, skin and sinuses. Be aware that "unscented" actually doesn't mean fragrance free: It can mean that masking fragrances are added to cover up any odor. (This is also true with "low odor" paints which are not low VOC paints by definition: They just have something in them to make them stink less.) For me, I have to use all natural products in addition to using fragrance free products as my body can’t tolerate petroleum based products. All major brands of conventional detergents, for example, are petroleum based.
In order to reduce the overall stress on your immune system, eating organic can help greatly. When I began eating organic, I was able to drastically reduce the amount of antihistimines I was taking for several years. The change in diet also stopped the frequent sinus infections I used to battle.
Removing foods which you are sensitive or allergic to can also help reduce the stress on the immune system and minimize the impact of airborne allergens on your body. Dairy and gluten are common allergy and asthma triggers for many people.
There are also foods that can "cross-react." This essentially means that the immune system sees these foods as close to the pollens that you react to, and thus, eating those foods increases one's reaction to that pollen. There are many lists of these foods around the internet such as this one and this one. You may find that eliminating certain foods while related seasonal allergies are peaking may help your overall health.
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