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May 3, 2011

Springtime is Here…And so are the Allergies!

Many of us look forward to the coming warmer months, but for those with seasonal allergies, the transition period can range from annoying to unbearable.  Common symptoms of seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, include itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip, and irritated throat.  Though many people may not realize it, seasonal allergies can have a dramatic affect on daily functioning.  For example, a person may experience disruptions in sleep, fatigue, difficulty with concentration and even learning.  In the United States, estimates show that up to one third of all adults and 40% of all children are burdened with these allergies, triggered by airborne pollens and mold spores.  Some people experience symptoms during spring, others are affected in summer or fall, while some even suffer for up to 9 months out of the year.  

Throughout the year, pollen counts of various trees, grasses, and weeds rise and fall.  In people with seasonal allergies, the immune system is in a hyperactive state, causing a reaction to pollen as though it were a foreign invader.  Because the immune system views pollen as a foreign invader, similar to a bacteria or virus, it responds in such a way to eliminate the threat.  This response includes things like excess mucous production, inflammation, coughing, and watering of the eyes.  When allergies are not addressed appropriately, excess mucous production and a worn out immune system make it easier for true foreign invaders to take hold.  This is the mechanism by which seasonal allergies can transition into sinus infections or other respiratory infections.       
In conventional medicine, intranasal corticosteroid sprays are the typical gold standard pharmacological treatment for moderate to severe cases of seasonal allergies.  Other medications are also frequently recommended, including over-the-counter or prescribed oral and intranasal antihistamines, oral and topical decongestants, and leukotriene receptor antagonists.  Though they may be helpful in reducing symptoms temporarily, they do not fix the source of the problem and they can come with a cost.  Some common side effects from these medicines can include immune suppression, drowsiness, fatigue, and rebound seasonal allergies.  

The naturopathic approach to seasonal allergies is comprehensive and multi-tiered.  Our first goal is to identify and reduce allergen/irritant exposure if at all possible, then to rebalance the immune system through appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes, nutritional therapies, botanical medicines, and homeopathic remedies.  We utilize some of the most highly effective natural anti-histamines and anti-inflammatories that don’t come with negative side effects.   Did you know that more than half of your immune system is centralized to your digestive tract?    Since proper digestion has a whole lot to do with immune function, it’s vital to correct any digestive problems that may be going on.  Hormonal balance, particularly adrenal function, is another important area to look into when dealing with allergies.  If you or your loved ones suffer with seasonal allergies, ask your naturopath how you can get them under control and maybe even prevent them from happening next season. 

Dr. Shana McQueen