Allergies seem to be more common as the years go by, and indeed they are. They are linked to the body’s immune system, and some allergic reactions can occur immediately, but others take years of exposure to allergens before manifesting any symptoms. Do we all have an equal chance of being allergic, or are there certain risk factors that can affect the odds either way? Let’s investigate this very common illness to see what we can learn.
What Are Allergies?
Allergies are an immune system disorder that results in an abnormal reaction to substances we encounter in the course of every day life, most of which are normally harmless. We can be introduced to allergic substances, known as allergens, via a variety of sources. They may be present in the air we breathe, in certain foods we eat, or in a number of compounds that can cause allergic skin reactions. The immune system of folks with an allergy to a particular substance overreacts or has a “hypersensitive response” that triggers allergic symptoms that can be mild, moderate, or severe in some cases.
Allergic disorders are very common in the United States. It is estimated that up to 60 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, and allergies are in fact the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Allergic conditions are thought to be responsible for the majority of lost work and school time in America. Allergies are also on the rise, probably due to poor immune system health that is caused by our propensity as a nation to eat poorly and avoid regular exercise and other healthful lifestyle choices like the plague.
The market is huge for drugs to treat allergies, and the pharmaceutical companies know it. Just think about how many ads you see regularly on television for allergy treatments. The drug companies love these medicines because they are cheap to produce, leading to a high profit margin, and they do not cure allergies, they only mask the symptoms. Many of them also create a dependency on these drugs, so what more could they ask for? A steady stream of customers that need to continue the use of these drugs with no cure in sight.
How Do Allergic Reactions Occur?
There are basically three factors involved in an allergic reaction:
There are many substances that people are allergic to. These include:
- Pollen: Wind-borne pollen is perhaps the most common allergen known to man. It is responsible for hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, as it is technically known. Ragweed pollen is responsible for about 75% of all pollen allergies, followed by various types of grass and tree pollens. Some pollen allergies affect people seasonally, but others are more chronic and occur year around. This type is known as perennial allergic rhinitis.
- Foods: Food allergies are also extremely common. Allergic reactions may occur immediately after eating a certain food, or they may exhibit a delayed reaction that is the result of exposure to a food repeatedly over time. The most common immediate reaction foods include eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and other nuts. The most common delayed reaction food allergens are milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus, and food colorings.
- Dust mites: These microscopic critters feed on house dust, which itself is often an allergen. House dust is composed of various fibers, animal dander, food particles, mold spores, bacteria, and bits of plants. It is the perfect medium for dust mites, which are often found in furniture, bedding, and carpets. They especially love warm, humid environments.
- Mold: Molds are parasitic fungi that emit microscopic spores that travel through the air. They can be found both inside and out, preferring damp areas and hot, humid conditions. They are often found in the bathrooms or basements of many homes.
- Animal dander: Dander is composed of pieces of dead skin combined with oil secreted by the skin of the animal. Many people are allergic to proteins present in these oils. Some folks are also allergic to proteins present in animal saliva as well. Sometimes it will take years for these types of allergies to manifest themselves. The symptoms can also linger long after the offending pet has been removed and the home cleared of dander.
- Latex: Rubber gloves made of latex are the main culprits here. Some individuals are allergic to the latex itself, but research has shown that many are exposed to the latex via the airborne powder particles from latex gloves with powder inside. This may actually be a bigger allergen than the latex itself.
Mast cells are specialized cells of the immune system that are found mainly in the connective tissues of the body such as the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, lungs, intestinal tract, and on the skin and tongue.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
This is a type of antibody produced by the immune system during allergic reactions. They are geared to fight specific allergens, so there are many types of IgE that the immune system will manufacture. They are programmed to coat and surround the mast cells in the area affected by the allergic reaction.
In a nutshell, this is how it works during an allergic reaction. When a person who is prone to have an allergy to a certain substance, like eggs, for example, the immune system kicks into action when the person is exposed to eggs. Large amounts of “egg” IgE antibodies are produced, and they stimulate the mast cells to manufacture chemicals that cause the affected area to swell, become inflamed, engorged with blood, and can even cause muscle spasms. One of the most common of these inflammatory chemicals is called histamine.
In the case of a food allergy such as eggs, the affected area can be any or all of the following: mouth, nose, esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract. Extreme reactions can cause difficulty breathing due to swelling and muscle spasms in the bronchial area (bronchospasms).
What Are the Symptoms of Allergic Reactions?
Symptoms are based mostly on the type of allergen, and the parts of the body that are affected. Typical symptoms include:
- Airborne allergens: Sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, runny and bloodshot eyes. Airborne allergens can also cause asthma, which is when the allergic reaction occurs in the lining of the lungs. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an allergic reaction located in the lining of the eyes.
- Food allergens: Allergic reactions to foods can be some of the most severe of any type. Symptoms include swelling and itching of the lips, throat, and esophagus. Cramping and diarrhea can occur when the intestinal tract is involved. Hives are common too. These are an allergic reaction that is the result of allergens absorbed into the bloodstream. Blood borne allergens can cause systemic reactions that can involve the whole body. Rarely body organs such as the kidneys or brain can experience dangerous swelling and inflammation due to systemic allergic reactions.
- Contact allergens: These reactions take place on the skin, and can be from direct skin contact with an allergen (contact dermatitis), or through absorbing allergens via the air or gastrointestinal tract (atopic dermatitis). Typical signs include hives, swelling, itchy skin, and blistering.
- Injected allergies:These most commonly occur from insect bites, but can also be the result of allergic reactions to injected drugs. Since they go directly into the circulatory system, they have the potential to produce fast, hard-hitting symptoms that can be very dangerous.
The most critical allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. This severe reaction occurs when an allergen is introduced into the circulatory system and attacks the whole body. The muscles can contract and cause difficulty breathing. In addition, a person can develop very low blood pressure and go into shock. Anaphylaxis can result in loss of consciousness or even death in severe cases. A typical instance where this may happen is when person who is highly allergic to the venom of bees or wasps gets stung. Many folks in this situation will carry a self-injection kit containing adrenalin that can reverse the reaction, and possibly save their lives.
What Causes Allergies?
Why is one person highly allergic to multiple substances, while another may have no discernable allergies? Heredity has a lot to do with it. Allergies tend to run in families. But oddly enough, the tendency to be easily allergic can be inherited, but allergies to specific substances is not. If mom and grandma had allergies, you have a better chance of developing them too, but the allergens may be of a completely different variety.
This has lead researchers to conclude that the true risk factor for allergies is most likely immune system health. Individuals, and families, who are proactive about staying well, and careful about how they treat their bodies are much less likely to come down with allergies or many other of our modern diseases as well. A diet that avoids junk and processed foods and is heavy on whole, natural foods that contain lots of antioxidants and other needed substances to keep the immune system healthy will seldom suffer from allergies and other autoimmune system disorders.
What Can Be Done If I Already Have Allergies?
The most important step you can take is to adjust your diet and lifestyle by making healthful choices that lead to wellness and strengthen your entire body, including the all-important immune system. I would stay away from the multitude of prescription and over-the-counter “remedies” that are available for allergies. These only mask the symptoms, and in fact can sometimes make the problem worse by weakening the immune system in the long run (corticosteroids, for example).
Colon Cleansing – Performing periodic digestive tract and liver/gallbladder cleansing is very effective for immune system support and repair. Remember that over 70% of the immune system is found in the digestive tract.
Oregano Oil – A good quality oregano oil also helps many people with their allergy symptoms. In fact many get lasting relief when the oregano oil is of good quality and used correctly.
Probiotics – Using an effective probiotic (spore producing) has been shown effective in children with allergies.
Mouth Health – Keeping the mouth clean through daily oral health maintenance may also be effective in allergy reduction.
Sinus Cleansing and Nasal Irrigation – highly recommend daily nasal irrigation/sinus cleansing to gently wash away excess mucous, bacteria, pollen, allergens and viruses from the sinus cavities.
Home and Office Environment
Air Purification – Using ionic air purifiers in the bedroom, living area and office helps reduce allergens in the air. The Germicidal UV lamp is the best air purification method now available for destroying microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and mold.
Carpets & Flooring – Keep carpets vacuumed daily and if possible replace carpeting with hard wood floors or ceramic flooring. Make sure that all new carpeting and flooring is made to current green standards and does not give off harmful chemicals.
Take off shoes! – Make it a family rule that shoes are taken off before entering the house.
Green Plants – Placing green plants around your home and office will also help tremendously with air quality. NASA has done experiements by placing plants in rooms that contained chemical toxins. Within a 24-hour period most of the toxins had been eliminated by the plants causing the pollution levels to be reduced.
Clean Vents & Replace Filters Often! – Spray your air-conditioning/heater vents with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and tea tree oil to combat mold. Make sure that filters are changed monthly especially during pollen season.
Foods – Wash all fruits and vegetables (even organic) thoroughly and effectively. This can be done using a hydrogen perioxide bath of 1-capful of food-grade hydrogen perioxide per sinkful of purified water.
Cleaning supplies – Make sure that you use cleaning supplies that are not toxic. There are many on the market today that are very effective yet do not contain harmful chemicals or give off toxic odors.
Allergy Relief – In Addition
If you suffer from food allergies, it is a fairly simple process to determine which food or foods are causing the reactions, and eliminate them from your diet. Try eliminating all of the most common food allergens (listed above) for a period of two weeks. Then introduce one at a time, and if there are no reactions, try adding another after three or four days. This is called an “elimination” diet, and is very helpful at identifying specific food allergens.
Make whatever adjustments you have to make to avoid or minimize exposure to known allergens for you or your children. This fixes the immediate problems, but don’t forget to “see the forest through the trees,” and take a long-term perspective too. Strengthening the immune system is the real answer to allergies and many other maladies as well.
Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH is a Naturopathic Practitioner, Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Practitioner and Clinical Herbalist in Houston, TX and Founder / CEO of Oasis Advanced Wellness. Under her leadership, Oasis Advanced Wellness is known and respected as one of the leading companies in providing safe, non-toxic, hi-tech natural health and wellness solutions along with cutting-edge health programs. Dr. Lanphier is the author of five health and wellness e-books including Optimum Health Strategies…Doing What Works. Lanphier is Editor and contributor to the worldwide Free E-newsletter Advanced Health & Wellness