Alternative Medicines for Allergies
An allergy is a super-sensitivity of the body's immune system to certain substances such as foods, chemicals, dust mites, pollen, or animal dander. Exposure to the allergen (the material that causes the allergy) can result in uncomfortable, debilitating, or possibly even life-threatening reactions.
Homeopathy for Allergies
Homeopathy, like conventional medicine's immunotherapy, holds that the body's ability to tolerate allergens can be stimulated by diluted, nontoxic doses of certain natural substances (which, if given to a healthy person in full, toxic strength would produce the same symptoms as the allergy patient's). The difference between homeopathy and immunotherapy (allergy shots) is that homeopathy uses extremely diluted doses. Homeopathic remedies should also produce results faster than immunotherapy and without the annoying and possibly dangerous side effects.
In addition to bolstering the body against future allergy attacks, homeopathic treatments can relieve symptoms such as runny nose and watery and irritated eyes. Here's how the therapy is administered:
- A homeopath begins by assessing the patient's symptoms and overall health and lifestyle.
- Then, a preparation is prescribed in the form of tablets or liquid drops. Depending on which school of thought the practitioner adheres to -- from classical homeopathy to isopathy -- the remedy may be a single substance (such as an herb, animal product, or mineral), a cocktail of several substances, or the actual allergen.
- The patient may experience aggravated symptoms for the first week or so, but this soon subsides.
- If there's no improvement, the practitioner may try another remedy.
Homeopathic treatments are also available as over-the-counter products designed for groups of allergies. Because these preparations are not tailored to individual symptoms, they are considered less effective.
For sufferers of seasonal allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever), this therapy is especially promising; at least four scientific studies have shown the effectiveness of a homeopathic treatment for hay fever. In one Scottish trial, patients who were given a homeopathic preparation of mixed grass pollens for two weeks had dramatically reduced symptoms. The symptoms of the patients who received the placebo remained the same.
Homeopathic treatment should be supervised by a trained practitioner. Treatment also may include instructions for diet and lifestyle changes.
Herbal Medicine for Allergies
Several herbs hold hope for allergy sufferers. Although the precise prescription for an individual patient may require professional consultation, urtica (stinging nettles) can generally provide relief from acute attacks of hay fever. Eyebright can be useful for the symptoms of runny nose and watery eyes. Siberian ginseng, elder, and licorice (the root, not the candy) can also reduce symptoms associated with hay fever. Teas of Siberian ginseng can help reduce inflammation in the sinus area.
Environmental Medicine for Allergies
Environmental medicine recognizes that there may be more to blame for an allergy attack than a specific allergen. Poor diet, previous exposure to pollutants or pesticides, stress, infections -- almost anything in the environment -- can predispose people to allergies. What's more, environmental medicine holds that the symptoms of allergies go beyond runny nose and itchy skin; allergies may also be responsible for ailments such as hyperactivity in children, mental fuzziness, and irritable bowel syndrome.
When treating a patient, an environmental physician first performs a physical exam and takes a detailed history, noting diet, home and work environments, emotional state, family members' allergies, and other factors. Skin tests, blood tests, elimination diets, and other testing procedures can help pinpoint the allergens. One procedure, for example, checks for allergens by placing drops of certain substances under the tongue. If symptoms develop, drops of a "neutralizing dose" ease the symptoms and build up the body's tolerance for that allergen.
Perhaps the simplest way to find relief from allergies is to create a supportive environment by:
- removing chemicals or pollutants from the home and office (such as using water filters or negative ion generators)
- altering the diet (avoiding the offending food, eliminating processed foods, or switching to a whole-foods vegetarian diet)
- changing lifestyle (such as reducing stress)
The steps toward healing an environmental illness involve careful examination of your home. Some general measures to remove environmental irritants may also help:
- If your house has wall-to-wall carpeting, replace it with wooden or tile flooring. Then, use scatter rugs that can be washed periodically in hot water. If you can't revamp the entire house, at least do your bedroom (where you regularly spend a third of your day!).
- Move electronic equipment (alarm clocks, stereos, etc.) at least six feet away from your bed. This reduces your chances of exposure to the potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation that these devices generate. Likewise, use an electric blanket only to warm up the bed, not to sleep underneath it.
Nutritional Therapy for Allergies
An elimination diet can rout out food allergies. Foods are cut from the diet for a couple of weeks to see if symptoms disappear. If the condition has improved, foods can be added back one at a time, with careful monitoring. Food additives can also bring on allergy symptoms.
In one London study, three patients completely recovered from chronic hives (urticaria) after they stripped ingredients such as azo dyes and sulphur dioxide from their diets.
Diet recommendations for hay fever sufferers could include increasing the intake of nutrients that have an antihistimine effect, including:
- vitamin C (Bufferered supplement preparations are usually best because regular ascorbic acid can aggravate some allergy patients.)
- pantothenic acid
Avoiding dairy products, which stimulate the production of mucus, can also be useful.
Other Allergy Therapies
- Acupuncture for Allergies -- Treatments can correct any imbalances in vital life energy that may be weakening or oversensitizing the immune system.
- Detoxification, Fasting, and Colon Therapy for Allergies -- Short, supervised fasts and juice diets can be helpful in eliminating allergens.
- Hypnotherapy for Allergies -- Hypnotic trances can give the subconscious mind healing suggestions, such as that the immune system is able to tolerate a certain allergen.
- Mind/Body Medicine for Allergies -- Because allergies can be learned, the mind can play an active role in treating them as well.