ALLERGIES IN A NUTSHELL

Allergic diseases include atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, asthma, urticaria (hives), angioedema (swelling beneath the skin) and food, drug and insect allergies.

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What are Allergies?

Allergies occur when the immune system responds aggressively to harmless substances (eg, dust or certain foods). Exposure to an allergen can cause a wide range of symptoms, the most severe being an anaphylactic reaction which causes respiratory distress and must be treated immediately.

Allergies may be caused by an overproduction of Th2 cells—immune cells responsible for destroying foreign pathogens—in response to an allergen. Overproduction of Th2 may generate immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies against harmless foods or other environmental materials. IgE in turn signals allergic mediators like histamine, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes to be released, leading to the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction.

Natural interventions like probiotics and vitamin D may help balance immune responses and improve allergy symptoms.

What are Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction?

  • Itchy, stuffy, and/or runny nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Tingling/swelling around the mouth
  • Itchy throat
  • Swollen, itchy, red eyes
  • Wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing
  • Hives and/or rashes
  • Cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis

 

What are Types of Allergic Disorders?

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) – a chronic inflammatory skin disorder
  • Allergic rhinitis – inflammation of the nasal mucosa in response to allergen exposure
  • Asthma – inflammatory disease of airway hyperresponsiveness and airflow obstruction
  • Food, drug, or insect allergy – allergic reaction brought on by exposure to a specific allergen (eg, milk, peanuts, penicillin, or bug bite)
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Angioedema (swelling under the skin)

How are Allergies Diagnosed?

  • Scratch or skin prick test – suspected allergen is put on the skin to see whether an allergic response is generated
  • Radioallergosorbent test and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay – tests where a blood sample is analyzed to measure for specific IgE antibodies
  • Differential leukocyte count – measures total number and type of white blood cells; may indicate a person has allergies but cannot provide information about specific allergens
  • Elimination-challenge diet – common allergens are slowly eliminated and then reintroduced into the diet to determine allergic triggers

What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Allergies?

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants (eg, pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine)
  • Glucocorticosteroids
  • Leukotriene antagonists
  • Cromolyn sodium
  • Beta-agonists (eg, albuterol and epinephrine)
  • Immunotherapy (subcutaneous injection or sublingual drops)

What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Allergies?

  • Probiotics. The “hygiene hypothesis” of allergies posits that over-sanitization has resulted in a lack of microbial stimulation to the gut immune system and therefore causes an increase in allergies. Clinical trials with strains such as Bifidobacterium longum BB536 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) have shown benefits for patients with allergies.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D appears to be involved in immune function and response. Epidemiological studies have linked low vitamin D status with an increased incidence of allergic diseases, and supplemental vitamin D may improve atopic dermatitis symptoms.
  • Vitamin E. Research suggests vitamin E may modulate allergies and other diseases. Low maternal intake during pregnancy is linked with breathing problems in children, and supplementation with vitamin E may improve symptoms of seasonal allergies.
  • Magnesium. Preclinical studies indicate that magnesium is involved in immune response. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms in asthma patients in several clinical trials.
  • Butterbur. Butterbur has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate symptoms of asthma. Compounds in the butterbur plant are known to inhibit histamine, leukotrienes, and the priming of mast cells in response to allergens. Petasin, a compound extracted from the plant, is used as a seasonal allergy drug in some countries.
  • Rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid, a flavonoid found in various herbs, is reported to have several health benefits. Supplementing in patients with different allergic diseases was shown to improve symptoms.
  • Other ingredients that may help those with allergic diseases include vitamin Cfish oilquercetinspirulina, and more.
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