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.