Ahhh… spring. Here in the Pacific Northwest it can be a wonderful time. Spring brings longer, warmer days, a little extra sun, and of course the beautifully blooming flowers and trees. Who wouldn’t love the cherry blossoms in bloom, or the alders with their clumps of fluffy pollen floating through the air like snow? Well…. tons of people, including myself, don’t always find this time of year to be the most pleasant. While the trees and flowers are quite a sight to see, I prefer to view them from inside the comfort of my own home. That’s right, spring is also allergy season.
Seasonal allergies are extremely common in our community. 1 in 5 people in the US have some type of respiratory allergy or asthma. Common seasonal allergens include dust, pollen, mold, mildew, and certain types of airborne chemicals. Allergy symptoms can be as mild as mild sneezing and itchy nose, to full-blown watery, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and severe sinus infections. Symptoms can last from a few hours a day to every day for months of every year depending on how reactive a person is to components of their surroundings.
So what exactly causes an allergic reaction? The answer is our immune system. Our immune system is a marvelous and complex thing; it keeps us healthy when we have infections, it protects our cells from malfunctioning, and it helps to repair damaged or injured tissues. It’s essentially the armed forces of our body – there to defend against invaders and protect the rest of our systems. But sometimes our immune system goes on the offensive and starts over-reacting to otherwise harmless situations. This is what happens in the case of seasonal allergies. Substances that are otherwise safe and we come in contact with on a regular basis offend our immune system in some way which leads to a full scale war on the immune front. The many symptoms of respiratory and seasonal allergies, including skin reactions, itching, sneezing, coughing, asthma, and even anaphylaxis are all due to our immune system mounting its attack.
Every person has a unique immune response, which is why everyone reacts to different allergens with varying symptoms. It is not really well-understood why allergies occur, or how certain people react to certain allergens. It is known, however, that allergies have a genetic component. Therefore, if you have a direct family member that has asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema) or allergies of any kind, you also have a much higher chance of having one or more of those conditions during your lifetime. These three conditions are known together as the “atopic triad”, and several studies have linked their connection and genetic susceptibility.
Which natural therapies are available for seasonal allergy relief? First off, the main goal of treatment for allergies is to help calm the immune system and encourage it to stop overreacting. Anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements can help reduce symptoms for certain periods of time, though this is only a temporary fix. Ideally, it is important to help the immune system mount a proper response to stimuli such as dust and pollen and not let it go all haywire. Vitamins, such as C, D, and B can help give the immune system cells the right ingredients to help them function properly. These vitamins are also anti-inflammatory as well, which can help relieve acute attacks. Fish oils take on a daily basis are very anti-inflammatory and help regulate the immune system. Probiotics can help to balance out gut flora which has recently been shown to affect the functioning of the immune system. Homeopathic remedies for certain allergens can help to train the immune system to stop overreacting to allergenic elements. Of course, the main treatment for allergies is to completely avoid the allergenic substance whenever possible. While this is not always easy to do, it can be very helpful in getting control of allergic reactions.
If you have questions about how you can help manage your allergies this season, call our office today to speak with one of our highly-trained physicians. We work with all types of symptoms and help our patients find the right treatments to help them get through the allergy season feeling great.