Spring is in the air, with lovely flowers and trees blossoming around us. For some of us, the spring fragrances are invigorating and refreshing. But for others, springtime triggers an unwanted cascade of stuffy noses, scratchy throats, infected sinuses and miserable headaches. And then there are some of us who experience these unpleasant symptoms year round, as we are exposed to pet dander, dust, mold, or other allergens.
Why do some people get hay fever and others do not? It’s frustrating to be suffering from allergies when others around you are energized and feel fine, even though the exposure to pollens, animal dander, dust and mold is the same in all people.
What is the trigger that tells the body to mount an allergic response in some people but not others? Although we may not know exactly why that happens, fortunately we now can understand much about the immune system and how it talks in the body. With that information, maybe we can ameliorate some of the unpleasant symptoms that make springtime (and other times) miserable for some of us.
Normal Immune Response
When a microscopic foreign body enters your body, your white cells identify it as foreign (or the enemy). Foreign bodies may be infectious agents, or food that has not adequately broken down, or chemicals, mold spores or even pollens, animal dander or dust. Your white cells send out signals immediately to get the enemy under control.
One message goes to the macrophages. Macrophages are like little garbage trucks, but instead of coming once or twice a week they are constantly available on demand. As soon as they get the SOS signal from the white cells, they come quickly and digest the foreign body, thereby rendering it harmless.
The white cells send another signal to the basophils. These little guys release substances that cause inflammation, including pain or itching, and swelling. We might refer to the basophils as an early warning system: something is not right, or “you just ate (inhaled, swallowed, touched) something that is not good for you.”
If your body recognizes the allergen as a trigger it has experienced before, it will notify the bigger immune system, which we might compare to a spy detection system. Your larger immune system is activated to attract previously formed antibodies (it remembers the previous exposure) and other cells to get rid of the offending ‘foreign body.’ If your body has not seen this particular foreign body before, it may form new antibodies to help fight and get rid of the offending (enemy) agent. (Yay for 007!)
Allergic Immune Response
If you have allergies like hay fever or allergic asthma, your body has formed immunoglobulin (which are also called antibodies). The allergy antibody we are most familiar with is called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Each IgE is specific to one trigger, like dog dander or certain tree pollens. You probably have many IgE immunoglobulin, each reacting to a different substance.
Immunoglobulin remembers your previous exposure to the pollen, or animal dander, or even dust and mold in the house. When the IgE receptor is stimulated with the foreign exposure, the mast cells release chemicals that cause an immediate inflammatory reaction, and start to make more of these inflammatory chemicals. The chemical most commonly associated with allergies is histamine, which is the major culprit in hay fever.
Itchy is a good word to describe the effects of histamine. Histamine causes the eyes to have tears and swell and become itchy. The nose becomes congested, itchy and has a clear liquid discharge. The throat becomes itchy. The bronchioles (small connecting pipes to the lung where air exchange takes place) become smaller and produce mucus. We call this asthma or wheezing.
Treatment for Allergies
So what do we do to become allergy free? Or is there such a thing? We have found some things that can help tremendously:
- Be healthy
- good diet
- basic supplements
- Instead of taking anti-histaminics (with their lengthy list of side effects), try
- Quercetin and
- Stinging nettle,
both of which reduce the amount of histamine released from the mast cell.
- Avoid offending substances, if you can.
- Allergy desensitization, through any number of ways:
- NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique). This technique that I have used successfully for years in my practice involves exposure of offending substances in homeopathic vials while stimulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, along with tapping of certain acupuncture points
- LDA (Low Dose Allergen)–low dose exposure of the offending allergens by injection or under the tongue
- Homeopathic drops that address predetermined allergens by season; otherwise placed under the tongue
- Signaling molecules help the body’s natural immune system to more appropriately respond to allergens: now available as a supplement. Contact my office for details.
Dr. Gardner works out of his Riverton office, Keys to Healing Medical Center. He can be reached at (801) 302-5397 for appointments.