It seems to be that time of year again where patients are coming in with the same old symptoms of:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose, nasal congestion
- Post nasal drip
- Itchy throat
You guessed it…allergy season is back, and with a vengeance I might add. It seems like every 3rd patient that comes into my clinic is dealing with seasonal allergies on top of their other health concerns. On the bright side I also see patients that used to have seasonal allergies that are not presenting with the usual symptoms this time of year. So….the questions must be asked, “what are these people doing differently that has improved their allergies to such an extent?”
I look at allergies as being a threshold. As long as you are sub-threshold you don’t experience any symptoms but as soon as you reach that threshold all of a sudden you are bombarded with symptoms that literally appear out of nowhere. The goal is to do whatever you can to keep below your allergy threshold which is exactly what my symptom free patients have been able to do.
In order to do this effectively it is important to look at some of the factors that move you closer to that threshold. Think of it like a cup that is being filled with water. Once the cup is filled to the top there is no more room and the water spills over, it has reached its threshold and the mess you have to clean up are all of the symptoms. Factors in our lives that add more water to our cups can be seasonal pollens, grasses, allergies to animals, mites, dust, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, low levels of beneficial gut bacteria called probiotics, and stress.
As far as allergies to pollens go we can only avoid them so much so what I tend to focus on in practice are the things that patients have more control over. Diet and lifestyle are huge factors that often keep our cups pretty close to threshold all the time and then when you throw in a bunch of seasonal pollens all of a sudden we’re over our threshold and experiencing an assortment of symptoms. So, how can diet and lifestyle empty our cup to a level that when seasonal allergies hit we can handle them more effectively?
Just as we can have allergies to pollens and animals, we can also have allergies to foods. These allergies can include common foods such as dairy, wheat, eggs, coffee, and sugar. Many people don’t ever realize that they even have allergies to these foods until they try taking them out of there diet for a little while and see how they feel. According to Dr. Robert Wood, M.D., Director of allergy and immunology, the Johns Hopkins, Children’s Center, in his article, “Will my Food Allergic Child Develop Allergies or Asthma”, there are certain conditions that travel in the same circles. These conditions are eczema, food allergies, hay fever, and asthma.
Often a child begins with a food allergy and then goes on to develop other forms of allergies. When food allergies and environmental allergies team up your suffering will usually increase. For example if you suffer from allergies to wheat and to tree pollens, it is likely that your symptoms will be worse during the spring. A simple way to ease your symptoms would be to remove wheat from your diet during that time…draining off some of the water in you overflowing cup. An invaluable resource I use in clinic is the elimination diet.
It is a specific diet that eliminates a number of potentially allergenic foods for a period of time and then re-challenges the foods back into your diet to see if you get any symptoms. If food allergies are contributing to your seasonal allergy symptoms the elimination diet may be of huge value to you. It not only eliminates allergenic foods, it also increases many highly nutrient packed foods that can help control histamine levels and inflammation that are essential to keep down when dealing with allergies.
Beneficial gut bacteria called probiotics play a massive role in the health and regulation of your immune system. According to Dr. Rita Kachru, an allergist/immunologist at the Allergy Medical Clinic in Los Angeles, “When you use probiotics, especially together with other anti-inflammatories like Omega-3 fatty acids, you improve tolerance to allergies.” Probiotics seem to play a role in the maturation of the immune system moving it towards a non-allergenic pattern. By combining the anti-inflammatory abilities of fish oil with the immune enhancing effects of probiotiics you may be able to significantly reduce your allergy symptoms.
Anything that stresses your immune system thus increases your immune load will cause your cup to fill closer and closer to its threshold. Stresses over relationships, finance, work, family, the future, the past, physical health, etc… all increase our immune load. The fact is that, in and of itself, stress is the biggest burden on our immune systems. Chronic stress disrupts the ideal balance of hormones and neurotransitters such as cortisol and adrenalin that, in return, can influence many other systems in our body including our immune systems. Our immune system when functioning optimally is extremely effective at dealing with whatever it comes up against…including allergies.
The goal is to manage our stress and decrease our overall immune load so we can get our immune health back to optimal. Many studies have shown that the relaxation response can influence cortisol levels and our immune response, which may influence the expression of allergies. The key here is how do we manage our stress? The first step is to take a look at all of the compounding factors that are increasing your stress, how they are impacting your health and how they are making you feel. Once you become aware of these factors it is your choice on how you deal with them.
You always have 3 options, you can either leave the stressful situation, change the stressful situation, or change the way you react to a stressful situation. Sometimes just realizing that you have choices can make a big difference. Make sure that you find time to nurture yourself. Often we are taking care of so many other things such as family, kids, work, etc… we forget about ourselves. Taking time to nurture ourselves goes a long way and often gives us more the strength and endurance to deal with all the other things we “have” to take care of. Find 5-10 minutes to breathe, listen to some relaxing music, go for a quick walk, or talk to a friend. Every time we put a break in our stressful day we create an opportunity to nurture ourselves. They don’t have to be huge breaks, we just have to make a choice to take them.