Allergy season is upon us: springtime is when so many people have difficulty with allergic rhinitis – otherwise known as hay fever – caused by environmental factors, such as pollen and mold. These allergens raise great concerns for allergy sufferers and their caregivers, and for many, there is no relief in sight for the duration of the season. In fact, 50 million in the U.S. are afflicted with seasonal allergies and these can start as early as February – depending on geography – and they can last throughout the summer. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)’s President Dr. Michael Fogg, what’s important for those affected is to know the sources of your allergy symptoms, and how to avoid them.
The ACAAI states that there are several things you must know in relation to environmental allergies. First, there are more allergies around than ever before – diagnosed in both adults and children – due to a number of factors. These include increased awareness of allergies and climate change that causes increased pollen counts. In addition, those who were symptom-free throughout their lives can develop allergies later in life. And, if you have symptoms that linger, it may not be a cold. After two weeks, you should consult an allergist to be tested and receive appropriate treatment.
Second, if you do take medication, it’s important to take it as early as two weeks before the anticipated onset of your symptoms. One way to anticipate is to keep track of pollen counts where you live. In fact, pollen could be circulating even before spring starts. One method for charting your symptoms is MyNasalAllergyJournal.org.
The other points mentioned by ACAAI are that, while there is no cure, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can help to relieve symptoms by preventing or modifying the progression of allergies. And, if your symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing, or coughing, you may need to explore if you have asthma, which is potentially life-threatening. It is important that you get proper diagnosis and treatment.
Another type of allergy that causes concern is related to the food we eat. On the rise in the U.S., food allergies are the fifth most prevalent chronic disease nationwide. Since the mid-1990s, this ailment is, in fact, common, and predictions are that across the U.S., food allergies as a condition will become more frequent and more severe with little relief.
One trial study conducted at pediatric hospitals across the country is immunotherapy (depicted in the video below with Lynda Schneider, MD, Allergy and Immunology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital), which with careful monitoring, introduces an allergic child incrementally to increasingly larger doses of the food to which they’re allergic, with the hope that the child will develop a tolerance for their prior allergy.
There are three theories behind the increase in food allergies: heredity, hygiene, and GMOs. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis), asthma, food allergy, and eczema (atopic dermatitis) tend to be common among family members – although not always. Second, some people feel that, because our environment is more sanitized than in prior eras, our immune systems have not been able to develop properly, leading our bodies to overreact to substances by developing allergies. The third theory is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply are making us ill, and in particular, causing food allergies.
A recent study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports on research conducted at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore over the past two decades with over 450,000 children. The results indicate that food allergies in African American children have almost doubled. This is at a much higher rate than that for children of other races. The study author, Assistant Professor Corinne Keet, MD, said that blacks usually have higher levels of IgE, although increased complaints of food allergies among this group are relatively recent.
When children have food allergies, parents are often highly stressed. The only sure way to manage this condition is to completely avoid the allergens (unless under a clinical trial, as mentioned above), and of course, managing emergencies. Difficulties and concerns include eating out, attending social gatherings, managing at school and day care, teaching caregivers, balancing social activities, and copiously reading food labels to ensure a child’s safety. In the words of one parent, it’s exhausting! One of the hardest things is managing other parents’ disbelief and teaching that even one bite can be highly dangerous. Fortunately, it is possible to gain some relief.
For those willing to try, acupuncture, herbs, and homeopathy can be immensely helpful in treating both food and environmental allergies without causing side effects or overreliance on medicines. In the Greater Boston area, an acupuncturist who has successfully treated numerous patients in getting relief from environmental allergies is Kathy Seltzer, Lic. Ac. in Brookline. Patients return after several treatments claiming that the symptoms which had made them miserable have now disappeared and all they need is a “tune-up.” Janet Lang, Lic. Ac. of Downtown Acupuncture, Herbs, and Homeopathy in Court Square, works “miracles” with children who have eczema, clearing up deep-rooted conditions within a relatively short period of time. For patients who are willing to be a bit bold, set aside their concerns, and explore options regarding their allergies, such treatments can sometimes change the course of their lives from stress-filled to respite.
By Fern Remedi-Brown